• New Ways of Visualizing the Customer Journey Map

    [Credit: Evan Litvak
] Evan chose to represent his journey as a circular graphic instead of the more common linear or chart structure.

    As the field of service design evolves so do the tools. At Adaptive Path we often find ourselves debating the form and definition of service design artifacts.

    I was curious to see how a new crop of interaction designers might interpret the journey map. Luckily I had access to an army of fresh thinkers when I co-taught an undergrad Visual Interaction Design class at the California College of the Arts this past year.

    One thing that struck me about the CCA undergrads was their natural ability to think cross-functionally. It was clear that they have grown up immersed in technology-driven ecosystems. So, it seemed like a natural step to introduce them to the concept of service design.

    I took the students on a good old fashioned field trip to Adaptive Path and recruited six colleagues to help me guide them through a journey mapping activity. I was interested in how a group of designers who had very little exposure to industry standards would interpret a journey map and how approaching the tool from a visual design point of view would influence the outcome.

    In small groups the students were tasked with documenting the experience of using public transportation. One student in each group was identified as the research subject and told the story of a specific experience that he or she had riding BART or MUNI. Group members captured key people, actions, emotions, things, and contexts that the storyteller mentioned on post-its, a different color for each category. They then organized the post-its, identifying major stages the journey.

    After rearranging, editing, and speculating insights, the students then had to create maps for their homework. We challenged them to consider new paradigms for visualizing experiences.

    Synthesize, analyze, create a functional/aesthetically compelling map and challenge current paradigms? In one week? Tall order. But, not surprisingly, they dove right in.

    The students had very different takes on when the journey began and ended (looking up the schedule? leaving school? boarding the bus?). Some visualizations were linear, others circular or winding, and some thoroughly abstract. Many chose to focus on riders’ emotional experience (a promising sign for the future wave of empathetic designers). One student used patterns to indicate moments of dense or sparse human interaction throughout the trip. Several graphed significant highs and lows in mood. Another created a swirling wash of colors that illustrated rider actions and emotions. She explained that rider emotions could not be isolated into distinct stages but were layered and blended. I couldn’t argue with her there.

    Some visualizations were clearly more successful than others as a tool for making design decisions. I recognize that a client faced with some of these examples would question the sanity of the company they just hired. However, one of the reasons that I teach is to have students kick me out of my preconceived notions of industry methods.

    Approaching this assignment from a visual point of view seemed to encourage students to focus more on emotion and storytelling. They considered the emotional implications of specific colors and typefaces. Working out information hierarchy made the stories immediately clearer and more glance-able. We encouraged the students to take an editorial approach to the data they had collected which I realize is unconventional for journey maps. Yet the result, in most cases, were more stripped down and impactful from a communication point of view. Significant points in the experience emerged through the layers of information.

    [Credit: Tanya Siadneva
] Tanya’s map is sparse and focuses on rider emotion. The result is the highs and lows become immediately obvious and she was able to speculate design opportunities for the pain points.

    [Credit: Kelly Fadem] Kelly took an illustrative approach with the only color highlighting emotional points in the journey.

    I would recommend this exercise for anyone experimenting with either teaching or learning service design or visual interaction design. Here’s an overview to help you plan your own version.


    What is the purpose of the journey map and who is it for? Will a design or engineering team use it to build out a service? Or is it a tool for executives to socialize a concept throughout the company? Is it intended to be tactical or inspirational?

    Create hierarchy by prioritizing. There tends to be a desire to document everything in a journey map, especially if it’s intended to be a tactical tool. But is there an aspect of the experience that is most important to elevate? The emotional highs and lows? The “break points” (points when users disengage with the service)? Use of media and devices?

    How do visual hierarchy, typography, color, scale, space and dimension impact communication of the story? What associations do people already have with certain colors? Are there opportunities to use symbols over words? How do you indicate where the journey begins and ends or the most critical moments?

    How are these visual choices appropriate for the audience and purpose of the map? How will the typography and hierarchy differ if it’s an inspirational poster versus a something that will be printed and referred to daily?

    Activity Overview

    (adapted from Jamin Hegman and Jared Cole’s service design workshop)

    • Introduce the concept of service design. Some great resources include: servicedesigntools.org, thisisservicedesignthinking.com/, servicedesignbooks.org
    • Identify a familiar service as the focus for the activity.
    • Have one member of each team describe a specific experience they had with that service.
    • As the “research subject” is talking, other members of the team capture key people, actions, emotions, things and contexts that they hear in the story on post-its. Use a different color for each category.
    • Group the captured notes on butcher paper and identify key stages of the journey. Do meaningful patterns emerge? Is there anything surprising?
    • Do rapid sketching of possible visualizations and share with the larger group.
    • Refine through digital visualizations. Emphasize that the goal is to not only to document the experience but provide insight into user needs and identify design opportunities for improving or evolving the service.

    There are 7 thoughts on this idea

    1. Adam Lawrence

      Fascinating. I’d love to know more about the journeys that included emotional path and intensity of human contact. It reminds me of our work on dramatic arcs of services. Are there more images of those maps available?

    2. Rhys Nealon

      Excellent article. Brief, to the point, covering a relevant topic with some new added flavours.

      Isn’t it just fabulous when you get to tap into fresh young minds? Would love to get students involved at industry level on a more ongoing basis.

      Keep up the good work.

    3. Jamie Thomson

      So glad to see more recognition of the fact that there’s no one right way of visualizing journeys. Fantastic student work! Would love to see more if you can share. I’ve been collecting examples of different ways to model customer journeys in hopes of inspiring UXers to keep evolving the technique and not just settle into a stock template too quickly.

    4. NIcola Morelli

      Excellent post, I will consider referring to it in my coming teaching activity. The question of representing services is still very open and this is a very good contribution to this discussion.

    5. Jim Kalbach

      Thanks for this post, Kim.

      In my workshops on Alignment Diagrams (see e.g.: http://tinyurl.com/c6ddeu9) I have students consider different ways to visualize a customer journey map. The results are as varied as you describe in your post, above. It’s fascinating to see what people come up. And on the web you can find more and more interesting examples of visualizing a journey.

      You’re absolutely correct in saying that you need to consider your audience. In my practical experience, however, I’ve found that a more “tame” style of map has the broadest appeal to a wide set of stakeholders. That’s usually a table or simple timeline of some kind.

      One of my principles of Alignment Diagrams (see: http://tinyurl.com/ccokoar) Is “Self Evidence.” From my own work I’ve seen that journey maps that have the biggest impact are the ones that don’t need explanation: anyone can read through it and understand the organization and message behind it.

      So the visualization shouldn’t cloud the message. But at the same time, the map should be engaging. So balancing all of these variables is the real trick to creating meaningful, interesting journey maps.


    6. Naomi McNae

      This is great to see Kim. I’m new-ish to the service design space, and have learned “on-the-job”. The original journey maps (we call them experience maps – are they different?) we were taught were very text-heavy, taking a long time to read.

      I’ve found over the past year that I’ve tended to strip my maps right back to the bare minimum of information to get the message across, focusing more on the visual design. Feedback I’ve had from internal business partners (clients) is that they appreciate the clarity of my style.

      It’s gratifying to know that I’m not heading off on some random tangent!

    7. Marina

      We deiefitnly need more smart people like you around.

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