Understanding your customer’s experience is the first step in creating solutions that provide lasting value. The use of systematic, visual representations can expose previously unseen opportunities for growth. Broadly, the activity of ‘mapping experiences’ describes a set of approaches to illustrate experiences for teams to have a common understanding.
However, many people associate mapping experiences with heavy upfront research. This need not be the case at all. In fact, the process can be completed in a matter of days.
But once complete, experience maps provide a big picture that you can align subsequent activities to, including user story mapping, design sprints, content planning, and more. They serve as a springboard into planning, experimentation and innovation.
General Process for Mapping
In my book, Mapping Experiences, I outline a general process for mapping experiences. This has four iterative modes of activity:
The final logical step is to envision future solutions, which is typically done in conjunction with the ‘align’ step.
The important thing to note is that this framework comes without a timeframe. It may take anywhere from hours to week or even months to complete. It depends on your situation.
Still, at any tempo you may be work at, I suggest going through these modes to keep the effort on the right track.
It’s really about principles over process. Focus on the goals at each step:
INITIATE: The aim here is to ensure the effort is relevant to the organization. I’ve seen many projects get off track because a lack of alignment upfront. This can be a quick discussion with your team to answer four key questions:
- Point of view Whose experiences? Which?
- Scope Where does it begin and end?
- Focus Which aspects are included?
- Use What will you do with the diagram?
INVESTIGATE: Mapping should be grounded in reality. The goal is to gather evidence that informs your effort.
ILLUSTRATE: At this point, you want to create a visual model of the experiences you’re targeting for everyone to rally around. Provide a common picture — literally — for everyone to follow. The objective is to visualize the experience for everyone to see.
ALIGN & ENVISION: Keep in mind what you’re ultimately trying to achieve: bringing teams together be creating a visual model of the experiences you’re targeting. A collaborative workshop that includes ideation and user testing is the intent of this step.
“The objective is not just to create a diagram, but to develop solutions together as a team.”
Case Study at MURAL
At MURAL, we used our own product to improve our customers’ onboarding experience. We kicked off the effort with a one-and-a-half day workshop in Buenos Aires with a group of eight people.
The workshop had for parts: first empathizing with customers, then envisioning a better experience, followed by quickly evaluating initial ideas. Finally, we planned our work and future experiments.
Part 1: Empathize
The goal of the exercise was to understand the user’s experience. To do this, I used MURAL to map out three different aspect of an onboarding experience before the session began, seen in the image below.
- Value chain (upper left). Mapping a customer value chain provides an overview of the actors involved and their relationships to one another. It’s a good way to see all of the stakeholder involved.
- Proto-Personas. In the upper right of the image above you’ll see three proto-personas. These were based on the actors in value chain diagram. Sophia, the design lead, was our primary persona for this exercise.
- Experience Map. In the middle is an experience map based on previous research I had conducted in the area, as well as recent customer interviews. The circular shapes in the diagram represent repeating behavior.
As a group, we discussed each these elements to understand the context of the onboarding experience. The digital format of the diagram allowed us to update it on the fly. For instance, we added details to the proto-personas as we discussed them.
Part 2: Envision
We then brainstormed barriers to consumption. We asked ourselves, “What is keeping the primary persona from using our service repeatedly?”
With a large virtual area to work in, it was easy to record answers right below the experience map. The results of our brainstorming session were clustered into categories and then prioritized using the dot voting feature built into MURAL.
Then, we conducted an exercise called a design studio to find solutions. For each barrier we identified earlier, participants individually sketched possible solutions. The sketches were photographed and uploaded to a design studio mural for everyone to see, shown in the image below.
Part 3: Evaluate
After lunch the team broke into two groups. Each focused on consolidating the sketches into a single solution. Our aim was to create testable artifacts by the end of the day.
Thanks to Usertesting.com, we quickly got feedback on our proposed solutions. The tests ran overnight, and by the next morning we already had initial feedback on the artifacts we had produced the day before.
Some of our assumptions were validated, others were disproven. We used the feedback to iterate on the proposed designs. Then, we created a concrete plan for implementation over the next few months.
Part 4: Plan
Finally, we planned future work and experiments. To do this, we returned to a touchpoint inventory created before the workshop outlining the current onboarding experience. This is indicated below with the pink label and sticky notes.
Below a map of the current experience, we illustrated the new concepts we intended to implement. This comprised of sketches, sticky notes and links to prototypes. This appears on the second line of the image below, with the yellow label and sticky notes.
Finally, we were also able to derive action items and a backlog of tasks, shown on the third line with the green label.
This rapid approach allowed us to go from understanding the existing experience to prototyping to testing in less than two days. There were no written proposals, reports, or other documents.
Mapping experiences does not have to take a lot of time. Using an online tool like MURAL makes the process even quicker. More than that, working online also allowed us to combine activities in one place for a better overview.
An interesting aspect of this exercise was that the team was co-located. We met face to face for all of the activities, yet still used online tools to capture our work. Forcing ourselves to work digitally allowed us to loop in others later who were not present at the workshop. We could also continue working remotely in the weeks to come.
Creating the experience map online makes the overall process ongoing rather than a static, one-time event, regardless of where people are. Experiences are dynamic, and creating an experience map online allows your process to be, too.