When a person moves through a digital system, we call the path they take a ‘User Journey’. Moving from screen to screen, tapping buttons and filling in forms, are all steps along that journey.
Designers map these steps out in diagrams to allow us to see how each step fits into the bigger picture. It’s a process of breaking down someone’s experience of a system, to see whether it can be improved.
This is one element of the UX (User Experience) toolkit. As an industry that continues to grow and develop new specialities, you may see similar diagrams be referred to as “User Flows,” “Task Flows,” or “Flow Diagrams.”
Personally, I feel that the process is more important than the exact labelling and I’m inclined to use the term ‘User Journey’ as it could be used to view two aspects of the whole:
- the tiny details of an individual task, and;
- the broader journey of a customer’s experience of a brand.
Why are User Journeys Valuable?
Although the context is often about software, a User Journey could as easily apply to any experience, like in-person retail.
In this journey, we start with the point that our shopper decides to enter the store and their end-goal is to own the item they’re looking for. In between, they go through a process of browsing, deciding and paying for the item, before they own it.
You could also use the same process to try and understand why our shopper decided to go into the store in the first place. Whether they’ve seen advertising, found an item online first, or were drawn to a window display – these are all possible steps to the wider customer journey.
Create a Streamlined Process
Apps are created in service of people’s wants and needs. Those needs could be to make their jobs easier, to buy a product, or to engage with civic services. Whatever they’re doing, there will be a start, an end, and as few steps as possible in between.
I say, “as few steps as possible”, because people don’t want to be using your app. What they want is to have the benefits that come from using the app – to complete their goal. Our role, as app specialists, is to reduce the number of steps for them to achieve that goal.
Take, for instance, our retail example. Comparing this with the process of buying a product online, we can see there are additional steps, like the time it takes to receive the item from a courier.
Each step that is added to the journey introduces another moment of cognitive load to our users’ days. That’s another decision for them to make and more mental energy spent.
If we can make these experiences more automatic (by using available data) or more intuitive (with clearer interfaces), the less energy people spend and the quicker they can complete their task. A User Journey is one method to expose how many steps people have to go through and whether there’s an opportunity to reduce them.
Pre-empts Changes in a User’s Context
We have to keep in mind that our users are complex people. Everyone comes to a task with their own context, which impacts their experience.
Going back to our retail example, we can see how contexts can change and the experience is impacted. You decide that going to a physical store is a better option for a purchase, because you don’t want to wait for delivery. In recent years, there’s been an increase in people shopping online, with wider availability of next-day delivery and free returns. In the COVID-19 pandemic, this preference for online shopping has increased. In this current scenario, bricks-and-mortar shops could learn something from the highly-optimised world of online shopping to make their customers’ experiences better.
How Do You Support the User Journey?
A User Journey starts from having some insights about your target audience. Information can be gathered from research, best practices and an understanding of your customer’s preferences and behaviour.
The journey may be known implicitly by members of your team, but visualising the steps allows us to get to collective understanding. From here, we can check our individual assumptions and shape the journey works from an experience, technical and business perspective.
Collaboration with other roles in the team is crucial, such as project managers and software engineers. The collective brings different perspectives that no one person can carry alone.
Documenting the Journey
A designer’s goal is to move the team’s understanding of a system. We move from a mass of information; to precise, actionable components and flows that can be rendered, developed, and tested with real people. By visualising the flow of information, everyone involved can get on the same page and converse around diagrams, sketches and other design documents.
These outputs are artefacts of the process of synthesising insights about the users. Using user journeys, wireframes, and interface designs, we can interrogate each element of the user’s experience as a team, making sure it’s sensible and efficient for the user.
Creating Your Own User Journey
The more you understand each step in a user’s experience of your service, the more you can easily identify their pain points, as well as any opportunities for improvement. As designers, we spend time gathering insights, reflecting, documenting, and going back over these questions to make sure different contexts have been considered.
If you’re looking to create an app with our team, to explore how your users experience your business, call us at +44 (0) 117 226 2000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.