Product & Growth Tips

Build more useful products with journey maps

Christopher Gillespie

A user journey is a story about a customer or prospect as told from their perspective. It’s often depicted as the series of touch points they have with the business—starting when they first learn about the product and ending when they take the desired action such as a purchase or repeat purchase. Understanding the journey helps teams make their product more valuable to their users. Here’s how.

Why do teams create user journey maps?

Teams map their user journeys to make them easier to understand. A journey map is a collection of customer research most recognizable by its timeline—a visual depiction of every touch point customers have with the product or business, laid out from left to right.

A user makes an e-commerce purchase

  • Touch point 1: User clicks ad for jacket (Neutral)
  • Touch point 2: Ad directs user to home page, not the jacket shown in the ad (Negative)
  • Touch point 3: User searches for product (Neutral)
  • Touch point 4: Recommendation feature shows the user another jacket they’ve been wanting (Positive)
  • Touch point 5: User adds jacket to shopping cart (Neutral)
  • Touch point 6: User purchases (Positive)

Throughout the journey, prospects experience emotional ups and downs, and journey timelines account for this on their vertical axis: Frustrating events are placed below the timeline and pleasing ones, above. Complete journey maps are more than a just a timeline, however.

A complete journey map includes multiple documents that try to account for users’ motivations, desires, fears, and biases to offer teams as complete as possible an understanding of what makes users do what they do.

The five components of a user journey map

To build a complete user journey map, teams must collect five types of data:

User personas: Personas are composite written profiles, or archetypes, that represent a group of customers. Most businesses have several user personas, and most companies give them short, catchy names—often with a touch of alliteration, so they’re memorable—such as Fashionista Francis or Casual Clarke.  

Touchpoints: Every interaction with the business or its product counts as a touch point.

Emotions: Each touch point has an emotional register—usually positive, neutral, or negative.

Interaction timeline: Interaction timelines put the ‘map’ in journey map. That is, they display touch points in the order they occur.

Channels: Teams should always note where each touch point occurred. Context matters—a user that signed up for an app based on a friend’s recommendation will likely have a very different experience from one who found it searching in an app store.

What are the benefits of a journey map?

Journey maps help teams understand their users’ motivations more deeply. Seeing the journey visually helps reveal the emotional landscape of the customer which helps the product, marketing, customer support, and analytics teams understand what users feel at each point and identify ways the team can improve the experience.

A product team looking at a journey map, for instance, could see how to improve the new user adoption rate by eliminating an unnecessary step from the onboarding flow. A marketing team could increase signups by simplifying the copy of a particular landing page, and a customer marketing team could reduce churn by implementing proactive in-app notifications.

In particular, teams using journey maps want to understand:

  • When, where, and why users download the app or begin service
  • How easy the product is to understand and use
  • How long it takes users to accomplish their goals
  • How user experiences vary across devices
  • Drop-offs in usage that indicate churn

The more teams know about their users’ journeys, the more likely they are to be able to predict the lifetime value of different user segments and how to cater to those segments accordingly.

Why do users churn? Learn more about churn.

How to build a user journey map

To build a user journey map, most customer-centric teams follow some variation of the following seven steps:

1. Define goals

Without clear goals, journey maps can get out of hand—and quick. A journey map for all customers through their entire lifetime would produce a daunting amount of data. By clearly defining goals first, teams can narrow their investigation to a representative group of customers over a manageable time period.

Common goals include understanding:

  • Why new users purchased
  • Why old users churned
  • Whether users from a particular marketing campaign are more likely to buy
  • What makes users contact customer service

There’s nothing stopping teams from building more than one journey map. For a first journey map, however, most teams select a revenue-based goal such as purchases or signups.

2. Conduct research

Research is the most time-consuming piece of journey mapping, but it’s also the most important. All designers are invisibly influenced by their own preferences and biases, and it’s only though observing their users in the wild, so-to-speak, that they discover how they really behave.

For digital products that have an existing user base, user analytics can help reveal deep user insights such as where users navigate, how they respond to messages and marketing, and where they typically drop off or exit the product or app. Some user analytics platforms even feature anomaly detection which notifies teams when customer journeys deviate from the norm.

Want to understand your users? Learn more about user analytics.

For products that are pre-launch, teams may have to depend on designers’ informed guesses and wireframes. But launched or not, all teams should balance their quantitative insights with qualitative ones by conducting first-party research such as surveys, user interviews, and task analyses to understand the emotions behind users’ actions.

In particular, teams should note:

  • Touchpoints
  • Pain points
  • Channels
  • User context
  • User motivations

3. Touchpoint and channel brainstorm

Teams should tap experts throughout the company to find out what they know about users. For instance, customer service teams are typically well-acquainted with customers’ preferences, complaints, and interests. Interview them to record their collective knowledge—tips and tricks that are well-understood among the team but not recorded anywhere—as well as their recommendations.

Customer journeys transcend devices and channels, and it pays to talk to people from even non-customer facing parts of the company. One e-commerce site, for instance, found that its legal team had forbidden the company from delivering to a particular zip code within New York City because it was home to a counterfeiting syndicate. Actual customers within that zip code were forced to order products to their office in another neighborhood, or pick them up in store—a nuance that deeply affected their journeys.

4. Create an empathy map

Teams can use an empathy map when interviewing customers to thoroughly capture the customers’ experience through their own eyes. An empathy map is a note-taking device, usually featuring a picture of a person and divided up into sections for writing down what customers:

  • Think and feel
  • Say and do
  • Hear
  • See
  • Feel
  • Gain

Customer feedback and behavioral analytics are also immensely valuable sources of empathy data. By seeing where users take negative actions, like repeatedly tapping an unresponsive button or exiting the app, teams can infer points of frustration and correlate them with specific features or flows.

Learn more about behavioral analytics.

5. Sketch the journey

This is where teams create the actual map. Based on the data they’ve gathered, they fill the interaction timeline with touchpoints.

Map formats vary, and teams can choose the one that best suits their needs. Timelines, for instance, offer an easy-to-understand linear depiction whereas tables capture more contextual information about customers’ thought processes and considerations.

[Callout box: Example of a user journey map in table format:

Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Touchpoint User clicks ad Ad directs user to home page User searches for product
Pain point Wants a jacket Can’t find jacket Can’t find jacket
Channel Online ad Website Website
Experience Positive—likes the ad Negative—doesn’t find what they expected Neutral


Maps can also be drawn as flow diagrams, which give insight into the velocity direction of users’ decisions. Flow diagrams highlight the multiple options that customers consider at each stage.

After creating customer journey map sketches for several different users, design teams may decide to synthesize them into a generalized journey map that reflects a broader persona. What they lose in fidelity, they gain in memorability. Simpler timelines may be slightly less accurate, but if teams can easily recall and use them, they’ll have a greater influence on the product.

6. Validate the map

Teams should always validate their findings and results with teammates who are familiar with the customer, but who didn’t participate in the journey mapping process. These relative outsiders can provide critically constructive feedback and highlight areas the team could have missed, such as the subtle nuances in a users’ decision to buy.

7. Refine and digitize

User journey data is valuable to just about everyone. Once results are validated, the team should gather the entire company to deliver a presentation on their findings. They can also digitize the journey map and distribute it throughout the company. Some design teams even use butcher paper to produce a wall-sized version, and post it in a public space within the office for all to see.

Examples of user journey maps

User journey 1: Fashionista Frank

  • Context: Shopping on an e-commerce site
  • Motivation: Stay ahead of trends
  • Mental models: Knows all the top designers, performs constant passive research
  • Pain points: Finding unique items
  • Interaction timeline:
    • Reads fashion influencer blog
    • Clicks referral link to e-commerce site
    • Browses 20+ pages
    • Abandons
    • Returns next day
    • Adds item to shopping cart
    • Purchases

User journey 2: Committee Purchase Pete

  • Context: Buying a new CRM
  • Motivation: Complete CRM evaluation project on time and under budget
  • Mental models: Wants to be thorough, wants lots of internal input, doesn’t like salespeople
  • Pain points: Lots of options, evaluation is time-consuming
  • Interaction timeline: (as a table)
Touchpoint 1 Touchpoint 2 Touchpoint 3
Touch point Conducts research on software comparison site Fills out form on each vendor’s site Schedules calls
Pain point Doesn’t know if reviews are credible Long, complicated forms that ask prying questions, like whether he has budget Lots of calendaring, some make it easy, some make it hard
Channel Research sites Website Email
Experience Negative Neutral Negative


User journey 3: Parent Paul

  • Context: Downloading the carpooling app
  • Motivation: Get kids to school on time, safely and quickly
  • Mental models: Safety is paramount, lots of alternatives, including neighbors
  • Pain points: Scheduling and trading off carpooling duties is time-consuming
  • Interaction timeline: (as a flowchart)
    • How are the kids getting to school tomorrow?
      • A: Take them myself (flow ends)
      • B: Schedule a ride
        • A: Text neighbors
          • A: Is it too late to text? Drive kids myself
          • B: Not too late to text? Reaches neighbor
            • A: Sets up ride
        • B: Try a new carpooling app
          • A: Google search
            • A: Clicks ad
              • A: Downloads app

Tips and consideration when mapping user journeys

User journeys invariably suffer from a lack of perfect data. Some users aren’t aware of their own motivations, and teams sometimes don’t get enough time with users to fully understand the complexities of their cultural and ideological biases. But as much as possible, the data within the user journey should be factual and based on observable and repeatable truths. If it isn’t, it’s garbage-in, garbage-out, and the journey map won’t offer real insight.

For the long term, the teams creating the user journey map should collaborate closely with people throughout the company, especially those that frequently interact with customers, such as social media, customer service, or sales teams. By keeping close contacts who understand the value of the user journey, product teams can accrue additional useful customer tips and anecdotes to inform future journey mapping.

What’s next?

Apply the journey to make the product more useful. Product, marketing, and customer service teams should reevaluate their systems, such as CRM, marketing automation, user analytics, and user messaging to ensure all automated touch points align with the journey.

Wherever there are major drop-offs or frustrations, teams can A/B test new designs to see what works better. When the journey gets easier, users are happier, and valuable products get used more by more people in a virtuous cycle of growth.

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