Context is King: The Importance of Journey Mapping

I’m not sure you had the chance to read Chad’s post a couple of weeks ago. If you haven’t please do. I’ll wait until you’re done, don’t worry. My post works on its own in case you’re short of time, but since it really is a follow up of what Chad wrote, I’d recommend to take a look at the thoughts he shared.

He was talking about the process behind the concept we created for The North Face and how important it is to create experiences around a user’s experience. It sounds obvious as I write it, but product designers tend to omit the real world and the user who’s going to use the product, as well as the whole context around them.

Context is king and it should be the main input when you’re designing something. It is not just “something else” you have to worry about: it is actually a tool that helps you make better decisions in different moments of your design process.

Journey mapping is the best way to gain awareness of that context. Every single thing that will be happening around your product. Digital products are not just pretty isolated things that you design, build and see them work. They are that, of course, but once they’re working they have to be used by real people. You have to get to those people with your product and you better know them before you even launch Photoshop for the first time.

Products are used by humans —sometimes very different types of humans. Humans have thoughts and feelings and they will react in different ways to all that functionality you spent a while defining. They have lives and thousands of things that will be happening around them and around your app as they use it. They’re in a car waiting for the light to change, they’re running to school, they’re having lunch, they’re watching TV, they’re trying really hard to read that grey text you loved in Photoshop while they’re relaxing on the beach.

Always start with the frustration, said Chad in his post. Start with a problem, understand it and before you even try to come up with a solution, spend some time thinking about the types of people that are involved in any way with that problem. Interview them if you can, hear what they have to say. Turn those groups into personas and for each persona go ahead and draft a journey map. Structure the different moments in which those personas will (or could) interact with your product (i.e.: awareness, consideration, purchase, post sale) and start to map the different thoughts, feelings, pain points, emotions and frustrations that each persona would experience throughout the journey.

All the touchpoints you can identify should motivate much of what the product will end up doing. You will start to identify opportunities in every one of those touchpoints in all the different moments of the user’s journey. It’s all about reducing the friction: are users worried about providing a lot of information when they’re signing up? Try reducing the number of fields in the signup form to a minimum. Do they stress out over choosing what model of your product is best for them when they’re about to make a purchase? Try being more descriptive, add videos or comparison tables.

The process sounds incredibly complex and time-consuming but you really can do it at any level, depending on how granular you need to get. In general terms, this process is something you can go through quickly with the information you have at hand. Your journey maps don’t have to look pretty in order to be useful. And more importantly, it doesn’t have to be a client deliverable. Just think of it as a tool you can make use of even as an internal asset that informs your design process and makes it more user-centric.