The Basics of Effective Journey Mapping

Last updated on 19 September 2023

The Journey Map is known by many names, including Experience Flow, Customer Decision Journey, or User Experience Journey. Whatever we call it, each journey map is a story. Here’s how to make journey maps that tell your story effectively.

An effective journey map teaches us, is based on truth, and helps us empathize with others.

There’s plenty of info out there on journey mapping, so here’s a quick overview on the basics of crafting effective ones.

Fiction or Non-Fiction?

At Philips, we often work with what we call an As-is Journey and an Envisioned Journey. As the names suggest, an as-is journey tell the story of what’s going on now. It’s a tool to understand where things are going wrong, where they’re going well, and where we can find new opportunities. An envisioned journey tells the story of how we want things to become.

Together, these two journey maps show us where the gaps are between what we have and what we want, but each has value on its own. It may seem obvious, but before getting started, make sure the whole team understands which of these you’re creating.

The Emotional Journey

Journey Map Example by Joel Flom at EffectiveUI
Image: UXmatters

Like a character in a story, a character on a journey map progresses at each step by making choices. Do I go to the doctor or wait for the pain to go away? Do I go see that product in a store before buying it online? As behavioral science teaches us, we make choices emotionally.

If we want to understand people’s choices, we must understand their emotions.

By empathizing with a character while mapping her journey, we can map her emotions and how they change along the way. Adding this level of detail provides important context for understanding why people uninstall your app, return your product, or switch to a different hospital.

Six Basic Steps

Decide the Beginning and End

It’s not necessary to describe these in detail, that will happen during the process. Just delineate where you want the story to start and finish.

Figure Out the Scenes

On a high level, plot the most critical choices your character needs to get from point A to point B. This works best if you have some data to start with. Start at the beginning and ask “what happens next?” If you get stuck, go to the end and ask “what happened before this?”

Identify the Loops

Some processes repeat during a journey, and it’s helpful to identify them. This could be things like loyalty loops, service usage routines (like patients with chronic disease returning to a care center), or repeatedly visiting a product’s webpage before actually buying the product.

McKinsey's new customer decision journey with accelerated loyalty journey - Start, Consider, Evaluate, Buy, Experience, Advocate, Bond, loops back to Buy
Image: McKinsey

Loops like these often represent important opportunities to engage with people or indicate places where people are getting stuck.

Validate and Iterate

Start your journey mapping process with real data. If you don’t have data to start with, get feedback during your process or (get someone to) start collecting data for you.

For as-is journeys, valid data will make sure you’re telling an accurate story. For envisioned journeys, feedback from the people your characters represent can show what doesn’t work or take you in unexpected directions.

Sweat the Details

Once the high-level map is set, including a rough emotion plot, keep asking questions and adding details until your story makes sense. Additional research can help here, especially first-hand immersion.

Distill and Communicate Key Insights

Look for moments of pain and delight, drop-off points, and missed opportunities. Like liquor, the better you distill your key insights, the stronger your story gets.

Ideally, you could guide stakeholders face-to-face in role-playing the key points in your journey. However, it can also be helpful to create separate, sharing-friendly deliverables that communicate your map’s key insights.

Movies & animations are great for connecting emotionally, and visual summaries are great for hanging on office walls.

However you decide to communicate your mapped journey, don’t just hang up the full map and expect the world to change (this happens way too often). Journey maps tend to have a high information density, so evangelize your key insights and use the full map as a valuable reference.

Philips Design colleagues workshopping together
Image: Philips

Journey Map Canvas

With some inspiration from acting and screen-writing, I created a simple canvas to get started on your *ahem* journey.

👉 Download the PDF here, and let me know how we can make it better!

Journey Map Canvas, from The Greatness Studio
Journey Map Canvas, from The Greatness Studio

So What Are You Waiting For?

There are mountains of resources available on journey mapping, from Megan Grocki’s detailed instructions to Shahrzad Samadzadeh’s reality check on the practice. Have fun and enjoy journey mapping!

If you’re looking for training or support in journey mapping, get in touch and let’s see how I can help.

Update 24 Feb 2020: I added the complete post here, replaced the old McKinsey journey with the new one, and updated the Journey Map Canvas. ✌🏼💚, Brian