Illustration by Avalon Hu

“How do people actually use our product?” It’s a fundamental question every product creator must answer. A proper way to find the answer is to review the experience from the user’s perspective with a journey map.

User journey mapping is an excellent tool that can help you understand how, exactly, people interact with your product. In this article, we will review the concept of a customer journey map, key elements that every map should have, and a 10-step process for creating a decent map.

What is a customer journey map?

A customer journey map (or user journey map) is a visualization of the process that a user goes through to accomplish a goal while using a product or service. Customer journey maps help envision the entire experience from the user’s standpoint, offering the product teams valuable insights that can help them optimize the user experience according to their needs.

Customer journey maps should reflect the key areas of research interest.
Customer journey maps should reflect the key areas of research interest. Image credit NNGroup.

Main components of a user journey map

While journey maps come in different formats, they typically contain the following elements.

  • User persona. The user who experiences the journey.
  • Scenario. The actual journey that a user persona takes.
  • Goals. What the user persona expects to accomplish at the end of the journey (the outcome).
  • Journey steps. User steps that describe the actual experience. At each step of the journey, the user persona makes specific actions, has certain thoughts, and feels certain emotions. This part of the journey map can be supplemented with real user quotes or videos of interaction with a product from user research.
  • Opportunities. Insights gained from mapping that help a product team understand how to optimize the user experience. When no opportunities are identified, the journey map is not actionable.
  • Internal ownership. Ownership makes it clear who will introduce changes to the product based on identified opportunities. Without ownership specified, there is no accountability for change.

Opportunities and internal ownership are crucial elements for turning journey maps from design artifacts that visualize a journey into an action plan for introducing changes that create a better user experience for end users.

The 10-step process of user journey mapping

As with any other aspect of design, user journey mapping requires a solid design process. Here are 10 steps to follow:

1: Articulate business goals

A user journey map is created to support known business goals. Maps that do not align with business goals won’t result in valuable insights. Thus, articulate business goals before starting the mapping process. Try to focus on scenarios that have a significant impact on the business baseline (such as conversion rates and long-term customer retention).

2: Define the scope of mapping

The scope for a user journey map describes what your map will be all about. The scope of the map can vary from a high-level map, which shows end-to-end experience (from user acquisition to first conversion) to a more detailed map that focuses on one particular interaction (for instance, finding an item on an ecommerce website). The scope should be selected according to the goals you’ve defined on the previous step.

3: Obtain data to understand the relationship between users and your product

You need to collect qualitative and quantitative data to ensure that your map reflects users’ realities, the context in which users interact with a product. To create a robust user journey map, you need data from different fields, such as product design or sales and marketing. It is essential to collaborate across different disciplines and departments to create a holistic picture of your user journey.

4: Create a user persona

A user journey map is always focused on the experience of a person who represents your target audience—a user persona. Having solid information about your users will help to minimize the risk of making false assumptions about your users’ behavior. It’s recommended to conduct a series of interviews or field studies with your target audience to make the user profile as complete as possible.

5: Define the scenario of interaction

The scenario describes why, when, and how the user interacts with your product. Depending on the part of the product design process, the scenario can be real (if your product was released on the market) or anticipated (if a product exists only as a concept). Journey maps are best suited for scenarios that involve a sequence of events because such scenarios are easier to visualize.

It’s essential to define the user persona’s motivations (why users might want to use your product) and expectations about the interaction (what the interactions will look like from the user perspective).

6: Create a list of touchpoints and channels

Identify all main touchpoints (user actions and interactions with the product/business) and all channels associated with each touchpoint (where interaction takes place). For example, for the touchpoint “Buy a gift” channels would be wherever the gift can be purchased, like online or in a brick-and-mortar store.

Here are two things to remember:

  • If you offer omnichannel experience, you need to ensure that the user is getting a consistent experience across all channels.
  • Try to reveal user pain points. Pain points are challenges that users face along the way and are common reasons people abandon their journey with an application or product.

7: Create a narrative and sketch the journey

It’s much easier to create a user journey when you use visualization and storytelling. Start with creating a narrative—a story of how a user interacts with a product. The solid storyline will help you avoid fragmentation on a journey.

The story should be based on qualitative data from user research. The narrative shouldn’t be a fairy tale, but the actual story based on the data from diary studies, contextual inquiries, and user interviews. That’s why if you notice that you have gaps in the user journey, you shouldn’t fill the gaps with your assumptions. Instead, you should conduct additional research to find the relevant data.

Put together all the information you have and sketch a journey in the format of a step-by-step interaction. Each step demonstrates an experience that the persona has with a service, product, or person. A storyboard is a helpful tool that can help you visualize the experience based on the narrative.

A storyboard visualizes the user journey.
A storyboard visualizes the user journey. Image cedit Storyboardthat.

8: Consider a user’s emotional state during each step of interaction

It’s important to track not only what users do at each step of a journey, but also what they feel when interacting with your product. When we consider a user’s emotional state, this knowledge will help us connect with users on a human level and design more user-focused products.

When you visualize the emotional “ups” and “downs,” you show the areas of experience that require refinement. An empathy map canvas can help you structure the emotional state of the user and uncover moments of both frustration and delight.

An empathy map helps you structure the emotional state of the user.
An empathy map helps you structure the emotional state of the user. Canvas by Dave Gray. Image credit Gamestorming.

9: Validate and refine the user journey

Journey maps should reflect the real user interaction with a product. That’s why, even when a user journey is based on solid user research, it’s vital to validate the map. Use the information gleaned from usability testing sessions and product analytic tools to ensure that your journey resembles a real-use case.

Just like any other part of user research, the user journey should be kept up to date. Gather and analyze information about your users regularly, especially when you actively introduce changes to your design. You can use surveys as a tool to gather user feedback on essential design decisions.

10: Popularize user journey findings

Creating a user journey map is only half of the battle. To make the user journey work for your design process, you also need to sell it to your team and stakeholders. It’s much easier to popularize the map when you convince team members and stakeholders of the value this tool provides. That’s why you need to actively promote it—use your journey map as a reference during meetings and conversations with your team and stakeholders.


The ultimate goal of creating a user journey map is to create a shared vision for your team. Without a shared vision, it’s hard to achieve an agreement on how to improve the user experience. That’s why, once a user journey map is created, you should share it with your peers and refer to it often. Empower everyone on your team to look at the entire experience from the user’s standpoint and use this information while crafting a product.