User Journeys – The Beginner’s Guide

User Journeys – The Beginner’s Guide

Our Beginner’s Guide series is designed to help those who are just starting to learn about user experience or those who want to brush up on the basics. In this part, we take a look at user journeys.

What is a user journey?

A user journey is a series of steps which represent a scenario in which a user might interact with the thing you are designing. They should always be based on research and data.

They can be used for 2 main things:

  • Demonstrating the way users currently interact with the service or product
  • Demonstrating the way users could interact with the service or product

Why should I use a user journey?

There are many benefits to investing time into user journeys:

  • Demonstrating the vision for the project – user journeys are a great way to communicate what you are trying to achieve with stakeholders. They show an example of what the future state of whatever it is you are designing could be. Along with personas, they can be one of the key outputs from the requirements gathering stage at the beginning of a project.
  • They help us understand user behaviour – User journeys can help you work out how users are going to interact with your system and what they expect from it.
  • They help identify possible functionality at a high level – by understanding the key tasks they will want to do to you can start to understand what sort of functional requirements will help enable those tasks.
  • They help you define your taxonomy and interface – By understanding the ‘flow’ of the various tasks the user will want to undertake you can start to think about what sort of taxonomy can help support those tasks and what kind of interface the user will be needing to accomplish them.

When do I create a user journey?

User journeys typically come towards the beginning of a project in the discovery or requirements gathering phase. This is both to visualise the user requirements and help feed into other design activities such as information architecture or wireframing. However, they can also be used further down the line when scoping out pieces of functionality in more detail.

In our experience, they are best created as collaborative exercises in design workshops with insights from research.

How do I create a user journey?

If you have already done your user research then congratulations, you already have a lot of the input you need to create a user journey. Before attempting a user journey you should understand:

  • Your user’s goals
  • Their motivations
  • Their current pain points
  • Their overall character
  • The main tasks they want to achieve

For a full guide on one way to capture these attributes make sure you read our beginner’s guide to personas first.

User journeys tie back to real people. You need to use the data you gather from research to understand how journeys may differ for different types of people.

Need more help with your user journeys?

Our experienced mentors can help guide you through the process.*

Christina Li

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What should a user journey contain?

The main thing a user journey should contain is a series of steps progressing towards an outcome. It is up to you to decide how many you need to best represent the journey.

You will want to think broadly in each step about things such as:

  • Context – Where is the user? What is around them? Are there any external factors which may be distracting them? Further reading: Contextual product backlogs
  • Progression – How does each step enable them to get to the next?
  • Devices – what device are they using? Are they a novice or expert? What features does the device have?
  • Functionality – What type of functionality are users expecting? Is it achievable?
  • Emotion – What is their emotional state in each step? Are they engaged, bored, annoyed? Read more about mapping emotion to user journeys

If the purpose of your user journey is to show the current state of affairs then make sure to highlight any pain points which a future solution will solve. If it is to show the future state then think of ways which an ideal world could look, highlighting the benefits to the user and the business.

Depending on the project you may wish to go totally blue sky on this, however, it is generally best to at least speak to your development team when creating your user journeys to ensure things are at least feasible (if not optimistic!).

What should a user journey look like?

There is no set template, and a lot can depend on who the audience for the user journey is. If it is to communicate to developers, they may be happy enough with a purely text-based journey. If it is for an executive committee then you may want to think about adding illustrations to each step (think comic book).

Image courtesy NN/g

Really the only limit to the presentation is your own imagination, and what will communicate what you need to get across in the most effective fashion.

Whichever layout or presentation style you choose you may want to include the following in some way:

  • A picture or description of the person the journey relates to (hint – don’t use stock images!)
  • A title summarising the journey e.g “Faster uploading with new CMS”
  • A series of steps, in short, concise text
  • An illustration or sketch of what’s happening in the step (if necessary)

And then per step:

  • The device used
  • Changes to the current journey (if future state)
  • Benefits to the user and/or business
  • Any functionality being demonstrated

What’s next?

You should now understand about your users and what they are trying to achieve. You should also know about how they want to go about achieving it. User journeys feed into a number activities including information architecture and sitemaps, wireframing and prototyping.