Crafting User Journeys for Exceptional Digital Experiences

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Lea Balcerzak

User Journey layout

Have you ever considered what makes a product or service truly stand out in today's saturated marketplace? (Hint: It's more than just providing a high-quality offering.) The real magic lies in understanding and anticipating what the user needs, even before they do a.k.a 'User Journeys.' 

User Journeys serve as a roadmap, illuminating the path users take from their first interaction with your product or service to the moment they achieve their goal. But what exactly are user journeys? Why are they so important in the realm of user experience (UX), and how can we effectively construct them to deliver an intuitive and seamless experience for users?

What are user journeys?

User journeys visualize a user's process when interacting with a product or service. They will most often take the form of a multi-level diagram in a visual tool such as Figjam, Miro, or even Adobe Illustrator. These diagrams help us to understand the phases of a user’s interaction with a product, touchpoints, areas of opportunity, and overall emotions within their process and experience.

User Journey Figjam example

Why are user journeys important?

User journeys offer a comprehensive overview of how a user engages with a product, website, or service, helping us identify any potential blindspots that may be overlooked amidst the fun and sexy aspects of visual design. For instance, building a novel product or rebranding and redesigning a website can be exciting. However, it can often lead us to be overly engrossed in designing shiny new features, ultimately losing sight of the big picture.

A well-structured user journey serves as the connective tissue that binds all these delightful experiences together. It facilitates smooth transitions of the user between different steps, requiring us, as designers, to meticulously account for all the necessary screens and interactions that the user will need to complete their tasks. In developing a user journey map, we devote time to identifying potential areas for improvement. These could emerge in diverse ways, from tweaking the process to introducing a new notification or refreshing the navigation interface. 

Occasionally, outlining the entire user journey process can provide value by uncovering gaps where our clients or we may need a clearer understanding of a particular part of the user's journey. This discovery can prompt more targeted user or stakeholder research sessions, allowing us to delve deeper into the challenges users might encounter and the shortcomings of a product or website in addressing those issues. Though it may be something that feels like a momentary setback, committing to developing a comprehensive user journey perspective leads to a superior, user-centric product that effectively caters to consumer needs and expectations.

Similarly, user journeys allow us to create a central source of truth during collaboration with a client. Amidst client review meetings, wireframing sessions, and decisions about the perfect color scheme to make the design "pop," it's easy to lose sight of the end goal: designing for users. Personal biases and preferences can sometimes cloud our judgment on design decisions.

Given that a user journey outlines a process tailored for a particular user, it is a valuable resource during the UX process. It allows us to recalibrate and reassess how a design or business decision aligns with the journey we've carefully charted and mutually agreed upon. Furthermore, it enables us to ask critical questions like:

  • Does this added feature facilitate a user's progression through the conversion cycle?
  • Does this notification help the user locate the information they need? 
  • Will this new addition detract from the goal we aim to achieve and throw the user off the path we have plotted for them?

A user journey, particularly one collaboratively developed and approved with a client, can help maintain the project's scope and alleviate conflicts surrounding preferences and viewpoints. We can always return to our central question: "Does this align with the user journey we've planned?"

How do we build a successful user journey?

Understanding the users

Crafting a user journey requires a deep and intimate understanding of your client’s target audience. This can best be achieved by interacting directly with users or key stakeholders who are well-versed in their user’s needs and behaviors. Engaging in conversation and observing firsthand how users interact with your client’s product can provide useful insights that can't be acquired in any other way.

A crucial part of this process is the art of asking the right questions. Rather than simple yes-or-no queries, ask open-ended questions that encourage detailed responses. These will shed more light on the motivations and emotions that drive your users' behavior. Additionally, always make sure to follow up with 'why.' This powerful question can uncover surprising insights and deepen your understanding of user interactions.

Another thing to keep in mind is if a user proposes a solution, don't just take it at face value. Instead, ask why they believe it will solve their problem. More often than not, understanding the problem in its full complexity is more valuable than the solution itself.

Involving the client

Inviting the client to join the journey creation process is another effective approach to crafting a successful user journey. This involvement ensures alignment among stakeholders, which is especially pertinent for clients and products operating in niche fields. In addition, it lays the foundation for a collaborative workspace, encouraging a sense of ownership and amplifying the client’s grasp of the process's importance. Furthermore, this method fosters a mutually beneficial atmosphere of trust and cooperation, enhancing the design process's efficiency and effectiveness. 


The Importance of Being Curious
Collaboration with client graphic

Designing for users

Establishing a specific and well-defined user is essential in constructing a targeted user journey because it helps guide us through the design process. Without such clear delineation, we may encounter uncertainty, hindering our ability to fully understand our user's actions, motivations, and emotions. This could result in a design process riddled with ambiguous solutions that fail to improve the user experience. 

If the product, service, or website caters to a diverse range of users, each possessing unique situations, objectives, or processes, designing individual journeys for each group becomes imperative. This helps us create personalized experiences and ensures every user's unique needs are met.

All it takes is an idea

Embrace an iterative approach as you map out user journeys. It's perfectly acceptable to initiate the process with broad phases and a handful of known steps. From this starting point, gradually involve other team members, the client, and even prospective users.

Just remember that even though a blank diagram might appear daunting and feel overwhelming, beginning with a few critical points can spark thoughts and ignite meaningful conversations. Every journey begins with a single step that can adjust and expand as you collaboratively navigate the process.

All it takes is an idea

Considering other types of users

Even though a user journey is designed for a specified user, and we continuously strive to empathize with their experiences, we should take the time to recognize our inherent biases and preconceptions. Infusing diverse voices into the dialogue enriches the conversation and enhances the final product. In addition, it encourages us to consider individuals who align with our target user yet vary in aspects such as socio-economic status, tech literacy, or capabilities. This consideration is particularly crucial if the design process did not initially include primary user research or interviews. Above all, taking these diverse factors into account facilitates a more comprehensive and inclusive user journey design.

Closing thoughts

User journeys play an instrumental role in understanding users and their experiences. They provide us with a vivid blueprint of users' thoughts, emotions, and interactions, forming an invaluable resource in the continual improvement and expansion of digital products. By effectively utilizing user journeys, we can more accurately align our design strategies with user needs, thus optimizing user experiences and fostering greater success for our client’s digital offerings.