a smartphone, a voice assistant and headphones

The ultimate guide to user journey mapping

August 25, 2023

User journey mapping enables you to identify pain points, optimize interactions, and ultimately enhance user experience and satisfaction. In this article, we will delve into this method: We will discuss what user journeys are, explain their elements, explore examples, and guide you through the process of creating user journey maps.


What is the user journey?

Let’s start with a definition of user journey:

A user journey refers to the complete sequence of steps that an individual takes while engaging with a product, service, or platform. It encompasses every experience from the initial point of entry to the final outcome or goal achieved.

... by the way: what is the definition of a user?

A "user" typically refers to an individual that interacts with a system, platform, software, website, or any other technological or digital interface. Users engage with these systems to perform tasks, access information, or achieve specific goals. The term user can apply to a wide range of contexts, including software and applications, websites and online platforms, social media, etc.

However, the concept of a user is not limited to digital or technological contexts. In broader terms, a user refers to anyone who interacts with, utilizes, or engages with a product, service, system, or environment, regardless of whether it's digital or analog. Thus, it e.g. also applies to: physical products, services, physical spaces, education, transportation, etc.

Later in this article you will learn why it is importat to differentiate between different kinds of users.

What is a user journey map?

A user journey map is a visual representation that outlines the complete process and stages a user goes through while interacting with a product, service, or platform. It depicts the user's actions, emotions, and goals at each step of their journey, highlighting touchpoints, pain points, and moments of engagement. User journey maps put a strong focus on cross-channel experience, analyzing the user journey holistically.

By presenting this information graphically, a user journey map offers a comprehensive view of the user's experience, enabling you to understand, analyze, and enhance the overall user interaction on all online and offline channels.

Illustration of a user experience when using a voice assistant
A simple user journey map example

What is user journey mapping?

User journey mapping is a technique from user experience (UX) design and product development. It describes the process of visually illustrating and analyzing the various stages, touchpoints, and emotions that a user undergoes while interacting with a product or service. It involves creating a detailed narrative or diagram that outlines the steps, touchpoints, emotions, and motivations of users throughout their entire journey.

User journey mapping is a technique used within the design thinking process to understand and visualize the user's experience, their needs and emotions as they interact with a product, service, or system. It helps teams identify pain points and opportunities for improvement.

The purpose of user journey mapping is to gain a deep understanding of the user's perspective and uncover insights that can inform the design and optimization of the user experience. It helps identify pain points, gaps, and opportunities for improvement, allowing designers and developers to align their efforts with user needs and expectations.

Why are user journeys important? What are their benefits?

User journeys are commonly used in user experience (UX) design to understand and optimize the user's experience. By understanding and optimizing the user journey, organizations can enhance user satisfaction, increase conversions, and improve overall user experience.

By visualizing the user journey, stakeholders can better empathize with users, identify frustrations, and develop solutions that enhance the overall user experience.

User journey maps are important for several reasons, as they help organizations better understand and improve the user experience. Here are some key benefits and reasons why user journey maps are important:

  • Gain deep insights into the user perspective
  • Uncover pain points
  • Find potential for delighting experiences
  • Reveal unknown areas for innovation
  • Identify gaps in the service delivery
  • Create products that resonate with users
  • Identify bottlenecks as well as potential synergies
  • Foster informed decision-making
  • Foster a human-centered culture within an organization

When to create a user journey map?

Creating a user journey map is a valuable exercise at various stages of a product or service's lifecycle.

For example in these cases:

  • Research and discovery: This helps teams gain insights into potential user behaviors, pain points, and needs, informing the creation of user-centered solutions.
  • Redesign or optimization: If you're looking to improve an existing product or service, creating a user journey map can identify areas that need refinement. By understanding current user experiences, you can identify opportunities for enhancement.
  • New features: a user journey map can guide the integration process, for example for SaaS journeys. It ensures that the new elements align with the existing user experience and provide value.
  • UX testing and evaluation: user journey maps can be used to track how users interact with the product and pinpoint any obstacles they encounter. This helps refine the user experience.
  • User-centric workshops: these can help to bring cross-functional teams together to collaboratively map out user experiences, fostering a shared understanding and aligning strategies.
  • Marketing and sales strategies: User journey maps can help create targeted campaigns that address specific stages of the user journey, enhancing customer engagement.

Ultimately, the timing for creating a user journey map depends on the specific goals and context of your project. However, integrating user journey mapping early and consistently in your design and development process can lead to more user-centric and effective solutions.

How to create a user journey map?

A user journey map typically starts from the initial point of user contact, such as discovering a product or visiting a website, and extends until the desired goal or outcome is achieved.

1 Develop your user persona

Differentiating between user personas is crucial because it allows for a more nuanced understanding of user diversity and needs. Each persona represents a distinct segment of the user base, and tailoring experiences to these segments ensures that products or services effectively address a range of user requirements. This differentiation enables you to create more targeted strategies, features, and user journeys, ultimately leading to improved user satisfaction and engagement.

User persona for a software as a service including quote and description.
Understanding the needs and motivations of a software user can help to optimize the product or service.

2 Define the project scope

Defning the scope, or zoom-level of your work, is essential. For example, you could focus on the onboarding phase, the payment process, or a very detailed experience with a specific page.

3 Create a user journey map using the key elements

Start to list steps and touchpoints on an assumption-based user journey map; this serves as a great starting point. In the next step you will verify/falsify these assumptions.

The most important elements of a user journey map are:

  • Persona: a user persona is key to understand different needs, expectations and wishes from different user types
  • Steps / actions / touchpoints: this illustrates the single experiences a user has along the journey
  • Stages: A user journey often includes pases like: Awareness, research,  consideration, conversion, onboarding, actual usage, support, retention, advocacy
  • Emotions: emotions like joy, frustration, surprise and anxiety are crucial to take note of
  • Satisfaction: user journey maps usually include satisfaction scores, indicating satisfaction on a scale from very satisfied (+2) to very unsatisfied (-2)
  • Pain points and opportunities: Pain points are specific areas in the user journey where users encounter challenges, obstacles, or frustrations that hinder their progress or satisfaction. Opportunities are moments within the user journey where you can address these pain points.
  • Storyboard: adding images, photos and screenshots to a user journey map fosters a immediate understanding of the situation, helps to create empathy, and on top makes navigating the journey map much easier
  • Importance: showing how important an experience is to the users helps to prioritize pain points and focus resources onto the experiences that need it the most

4 Gather richt user experience data

To make a user journeys that really helps with decision making, they should always be based research, user testing, and data analysis to ensure they accurately reflect the user's actual perspective and needs. Experience research is essential to gain real data. User journey analytics goes beyond Google Analytics and includes offline data. For example, the context in which a person uses a product can have strong impact on the user experience.

5 Identify pain points and opportunities

Identifying pain points involves recognizing specific challenges or frustrations users encounter during their interactions with a product or service. Opportunities, on the other hand, entail pinpointing moments where improvements or innovations can be implemented to enhance the user experience and address those pain points effectively.

6 Develop solutions and optimize the user journey

Developing solutions involves designing and implementing changes, features, or improvements to address the identified pain points and capitalize on the opportunities within the user journey. Optimization focuses on refining the user journey by streamlining processes, enhancing user interface elements, and aligning touchpoints to ensure a smoother and more satisfying experience for users.

7 Iterate, iterate, iterate

Iteration is crucial because it allows for continuous improvement based on user feedback and changing needs. By repeatedly refining and adjusting design, features, and interactions, products and services can stay aligned with user expectations and remain competitive in an evolving landscape.

Call to action: Visualize your users' experiences.

Differentiating between different concepts

Having a shared language and understanding of different concepts is key to effective communication and collaboration. Therefore here come’s an overview of how user journey mapping differs from related concepts:

What is the difference between user journey vs customer journey?

User journeys and customer journeys basically describe the same concept, just with a different focus persona at the core of the journey:

  • A user is anyone who interacts with a product, service, or platform, regardless of whether they've made a purchase.
  • A customer, on the other hand, refers specifically to individuals who have made a transaction or purchase, indicating a financial relationship with the business. In essence, all customers are users, but not all users are necessarily customers.

What is the difference between user journey vs user flow?

A user journey provides a holistic view of the complete experience a user goes through while interacting with a product or service, emphasizing emotions, touchpoints, and goals. It's a narrative that spans the user's entire engagement. In contrast, a user flow is a more focused representation, detailing the specific paths and steps a user takes to accomplish a particular task within the product or service, without necessarily delving into the broader context or emotions.

What is the difference between user journey vs user experience?

In essence, the user journey is a component of the user experience, contributing to the overall assessment of how well a product or service meets user needs and expectations.

  • A user journey focuses on the chronological sequence of steps and interactions a user takes while engaging with a product or service, detailing their actions, emotions, and goals. It is a visualization of the user's pathway through the experience.
  • On the other hand, user experience (UX) is a broader term encompassing the overall perception and satisfaction a user derives from using a product or service, considering factors beyond just the sequence of steps, including usability, aesthetics, efficiency, and the emotional response elicited throughout the entire interaction.

What is the difference between user journey vs service blueprint?

A user journey outlines the step-by-step sequence of interactions a user has with a product or service, focusing on their actions, emotions, and goals. In contrast, a service blueprint provides a broader view by illustrating the end-to-end service delivery process, including both user-facing interactions and backend operations. Service blueprints encompass user journeys but also incorporate internal processes, actors, and touchpoints, offering a more comprehensive understanding of how a service functions.

User journey map examples

Example #1: user journeys in e-commerce

Our first user journey example from e-commerce shows how the user persona carl navigates through different channels to finally buy a book online

Expand e-commerce journey map

user journey map example from ecommerce

Example #2: user journey in online banking

The second user journey map example comes from a banking product and visualizes the experience of a user subscribing to banking services.

Expand banking journey map

user journey map example from banking

You can find many more examples on our journey map examples collection.

What’s the best user journey mapping tool?

The best user journey mapping tool depends on factors like purpose, team dynamics and other specific needs. However, here’s a selection of the most popular user journey mapping tools:

  • Smaply: a user journey tool that lets you create user journey maps online, combined with tools for personas and stakeholder maps for a holistic analysis
  • Miro: a collaborative whiteboard tool providing full flexibility, especially useful for user journey workshops
  • Lucidchart: A powerful diagramming tool that offers user journey templates
  • Pen-and-paper: Yes, sometimes even simple tools can be useful – especially at the beginning, workshop templates for user journeys are better than any digital tool

Key take aways

User journey mapping empowers you to create better user experiences, optimize processes, and drive innovation by gaining a deeper understanding of their users' interactions and emotions.

A simple user journey map consists of touchpoints, pain points and opportunities and can be created with digital tools or even pen-and-paper.

In general, user journey mapping is an ongoing process and iteration is key to success.

Create user journey maps with Smaply