Learn how to map your users' journeys and create UX flows that get users where they want to go.
It’s easy to develop tunnel vision when you’re building a product. You spend a lot of time thinking about every little feature and every single process running under the hood.
But that’s not how your users interface with your product. They’re coming from the opposite direction—they have no reason to care about your product until you show them what it can do for them.
Say you built a great weather app with a lot of cool features. Your users aren’t going to care about those—they likely just want to know if it’s going to rain on their commute home.
Your users probably came to you because they want to do one specific thing. Maybe they downloaded your mobile app while waiting for the subway, or they found your product in a Google search. Whatever the case, you have a limited amount of time to prove to them that your app can help them accomplish what they want to do before they lose interest.
Turning first-time users into long-term customers requires an understanding of where your users are coming from and what they want to do. User journey mapping helps you keep user motivation at the front of your mind and create UX flows that get users where they want to go.
With user journey mapping, you can make granular but pivotal tweaks that help users accomplish their goals easier and faster, come back to do it again, and build habits around your product—all from your onboarding UX.
In this post, we’ll look at what user journey maps are, discuss how to create them, and see examples from several industries.
What is a user journey map?
A user journey (aka customer journey) is a timeline of user actions that describes the relationship between your brand and its customers. It’s a visual representation of a user’s interactions with your product from their point of view.
User journey mapping creates a timeline of all touchpoints between a customer and your organization, including all channels in which they happen.
A really simple user journey map could look something like this:
These user journey maps help your company gain insight into how customers experience your product based on their unique motivations and goals.
For example, you might find that you need to remove a step from your onboarding UX flow, change the copy in a lead-nurturing email, or add tooltips to help users learn something—all based on the actions your users take. And observing how different users interact with your product lays a foundation for providing personalized customer experiences. It also fosters a customer-centric approach to product building, which ultimately leads to better customer relationships.
Mapping out your users’ experiences allows you to understand several important factors that shape the overall impression they’ll walk away with. Some questions you might ask about your users’ journey could include:
Why did they download and open the app in the first place?
How easy is the app to understand and use immediately?
How long does it take them to accomplish what they came there to do?
How well does the experience extend across multiple channels, and where do they run into gaps?
The answers to these questions can help you better understand what motivates your users and what they're most likely to find helpful. You can then use this information to create an experience that really hooks them on your product.
The benefits of user journey mapping
Getting better acquainted with your customers through user journey mapping leads to a number of perks. Not only do you gain a much clearer understanding of how people use your product, but you also set your business up to win in some potentially unexpected ways.
Unites your company
User journey mapping is a team sport.
User journeys start when people become aware of your product and decide to download it, so you’re going to need some insider intel from marketing and sales to build your map. And once customers activate and begin using your product, they might reach out to customer service, so you’ll need to connect with your support team as well.
Your marketing department can provide insight into how users behave during the awareness stage of the user journey. The sales team can fill you in on how users think about downloading and purchasing your app. And the good folks in support will give you the details about the hurdles customers encounter with your product.
Getting the lowdown on user behavior from your team members in different departments ensures that no data gets left behind while customer journey mapping.
Increases feature adoption
Whether you’re brainstorming about which new features to add or trying to get folks excited about recently launched ones, knowing how users experience your product is essential.
While mapping out the customer journey, you may discover that users skip over useful features because they’re unaware of or have simply forgotten about them. That little nugget of knowledge may prompt you to remind users about features (using in-app announcements, of course 😉). In turn, more users will likely activate and adopt those features—wins all around for both you and your customers!
Enables Better KPI tracking
It seems like there are millions of user engagement metrics to track for measuring a product’s success. It isn’t useful to monitor all of them, but you also can’t just choose KPIs at random.
Mapping out your users’ journey helps you to make informed decisions about which metrics to keep an eye on. For example, you’ll know to closely track session length if you realize that users encounter friction at certain times during the onboarding flow. If users repeatedly bounce before completing onboarding, that’s your sign to monitor session length to figure out what obstacles they encounter at a specific point in the flow. Collecting behavioral data gives you the best shot at developing strategies to keep users engaged and in love with your product.
6 types of user journey maps
Remember when people still used giant paper maps to navigate road trips? Often, there were different maps for each destination.
The same is true for user journey mapping—there’s not a one-template-fits-all solution. The map that will help your company reach its goals depends on what part of the user journey you’re interested in.
Here’s a brief rundown of the different kinds of user journey maps out there:
Experience maps are the most generic of the bunch and are all about tracking behaviors at each phase of a process from beginning to end. They’re used to visualize the steps someone takes to achieve a desired goal, like buying a car or ordering take-out. There’s no focus on a particular demographic, company, service, or product. Experience mapping is an exercise that encourages you to think about users’ wants and needs and the potential actions they might take in a certain scenario. They’re incredibly useful at giving you a general sense of the user experience before you get into the weeds with more detailed user journey mapping.
Empathy maps don’t follow a particular sequence of events along a user journey. Instead, these maps are divided into four sections and track what a user says, thinks, does, and feels when using a product. Empathy maps are usually created during user interviews, where you have a chance to observe and directly ask someone about their experience with your product in real time.
Day in the life mapsare all about narrowing in on users’ daily behaviors to gain insight into how a product can help alleviate a person’s pain points. They’re used to visualize obstacles a user might encounter and nip any issues in the bud well before the user notices there’s a problem.
Current state maps are the most common type of journey maps. They illustrate how users engage with your product at every touchpoint. Current state maps help you think about a customer’s mindset, behavior, and pain points when they use your app. Using this map, you can constantly tweak your UX to keep users happy with your product.
Future state maps are like vision boards for your products. They help you to envision how you hope customers will use your product and guide you to establish specific goals during the design process or at other touchpoints. Like current state maps, these types of maps help you to step into your user’s shoes for a bit. You can do some future state mapping when you’re brainstorming ideas for a new product or when you want to map out the best-case scenario for one that already exists.
Service blueprints shine the spotlight on the employee experience with service providers. There are four major elements to service blueprints:
Customer actions: What customers do when engaging with a service provider
Frontstage actions: Employee actions that the customer sees
Backstageactions: Everything that occurs on the backend, out of the customer’s view
Processes: All of the events and inner workings of the organization that make the business work
Service blueprints help to reveal hiccups in business processes. They focus on the customer as well as the roles employees and service providers play in different scenarios. Figuring out customer behavior is the first step in creating service blueprints, which makes them the perfect complement to more customer-centric mapping.
When thinking about which type of journey map to use, consider your goals and which problems you’d like user journey mapping to help you uncover and solve.
In the next section, we’ll explore what it takes to create a user journey map that gives you the insight you need to design user experiences your customers will rave about.
How to create a user journey map for your onboarding UX
A user journey map can include the entirety of a user’s interaction with your product—from the moment they learn about it, throughout the process of becoming a customer, all the way to the point at which they stop using it. Or, it can focus on a specific part of this process, like the onboarding flow.
Here’s how to get started understanding your customers and their journeys:
1. Start by working from your user personas
Customer (or user) personas are generalized profiles that outline the archetypes of your common users. They help you understand who you’re building for, which can, in turn, help you understand why users take certain actions within your product and what they’re hoping to accomplish when they use it.
Begin by creating hypotheses about your different types of users. Then, through a combination of product analytics, user surveys, and market research, you can validate these hypotheses (or disprove them, which can be equally illuminating). If you’re just getting started with user personas, Price Intelligently CEO Patrick Campbell gives a step-by-step explanation on how to create them in this detailed guide.
For example, a weather app might have the following user personas:
The picnic host
The forgetful gardener
Once you have your user personas drawn out, start creating user journey maps for each of them to understand how each type of user interacts with your product and what each customer needs to do to accomplish their goals. You should have at least one customer journey map per persona.
During this step, learning your customer’s motivation is essential—what particular problems do they hope your app will solve? Reasons for using your app will likely vary among your different user segments, so start by forming hypotheses about what motivates each user to download your app.
Focus your user research on the following aspects of the user experience:
Context: What is going on in your user’s day when they engage with your product? Are they in a rush? Worried? Planning an adventure?
Motivation: What drives your user to interact with your product? What are they hoping to get out of it? Why are they using your product instead of a competitor’s—or nothing at all?
Pain points: What challenges are users up against? Does your product help them solve these or aggravate them? Are there any usability issues with your product?
Mental models: How does your user conceive of the problem that your product addresses? What concepts and connections come naturally to them, and what do they need to be taught?
The research for the weather app’s buyer personas might look something like this:
Context: It looks like rain right now.
Motivation: I don’t want to get wet on my way to and from work.
Pain points: I’m rarely able to get reliable information about the weather by the hour.
Mental models: I have time windows where I expect to be biking to and from work. I want to make sure that if rain intersects with any of those windows, I know to walk instead so I can bring my umbrella. If it’s rain AND high winds, that will tear apart my umbrella, so I’ll take the bus or a taxi.
The picnic host
Context: I’m making weekend plans and want to have a picnic.
Motivation: I want to know which day this weekend has the best weather for outdoor activities.
Pain points: It’s hard to know with certainty what the weather is going to be a few days in advance but I need to have that information so I can plan accordingly.
Mental models: Picnics are best when the weather is between 70 and 80 degrees and sunny—but temperature is more important than sun; I’ll try to find a day with both, but prioritize temperature if both aren’t available.
The forgetful gardener
Context: I can’t remember if it rained this week.
Motivation: I need to know recent precipitation totals so I don’t overwater my plants.
Pain points: Finding historical weather data is complicated and time-consuming.
Mental models: Usually, I only care about the last three days, but a really major rainstorm would soak them for a week. Total precipitation is all that matters.
Before making a map for every persona, start by making a single map of the general user journey.
Conducting user research and collecting relevant data allows you to create a timeline of your user’s interactions with your brand and product. This timeline could include things like:
Benchmark actions and accomplishments within the app
Here’s an example of what a user journey map could look like for a food delivery app:
Your user journey map should note the channels in which these interactions happen to ensure that you engage with the user on the appropriate channels. For example, if a customer talks to a pre-sales agent, you should note if that’s expected to happen over the phone or through an online live chat. If a commuter from your weather app were going to talk to an agent, it would make the most sense for them to do it in an online live chatbox since they’ll be on the go.
You can also note the emotional state of users at each step of their journey based on customer feedback and behavioral analytics. Look for the steps that confuse them and/or make them angry. Identifying these will allow you to target areas that could affect the entire user experience.
Real-world examples of user journey maps
The user journey maps that you come up with will be highly specific to your unique product and users. However, there are some general similarities that you can use as a foundation for your own journey maps.
Below, we’ve outlined three common product experiences, provided an example of a product with this type of onboarding UX, described how each company might get started creating their user journey maps, and created tables to visualize each company’s hypothetical journey map.
1. Upsell to a paid account
Airtable, a relational database tool, allows users to start on a free plan and upgrade to a paid plan when they need more records or storage space. In the early stages of the business, the Airtable team realized that their free version can be really beneficial to casual users, but that there’s also an opportunity to monetize larger teams that have more complex organizational needs.
As a result, helping users determine what they need from a paid plan and navigate this upgrade is very important to Airtable. User journey maps can help remove friction points around this process.
To get started, Airtable would need to do some research about their user’s experience. For example:
Context: As the user’s company is growing, they need to find a better way to organize their blog publishing process.
Motivation: Content marketing has provided them with a scalable way to acquire customers, but managing the pipeline has become too time-consuming.
Pain points: There are menial tasks involved in organizing the content calendar that waste too much time. Their process is spread between too many services—editing docs, storing images to be used in the final blog post, etc.
Mental models: The user feels that their time is best spent when they’re focused on coming up with interesting topics to cover on their blog and when they spend time editing and improving the content.
If the CMO at a startup is looking for a better way to organize their content team’s workflow, they might consider upgrading from Airtable’s free plan. Here are the steps in their journey:
Using this map, Airtable can identify the critical points in their user’s journey that can make or break their product’s success. For example, a user experiences friction when they can’t decide between annual and monthly billing:
By adding a “Save 17%!” message to the annual billing option on their pricing page, Airtable made it easier for visitors to make a decision about which billing cycle to choose.
2. Ecommerce shopping flow
HotelTonight scored a big win when they realized a key fact about their customers’ mentality: When customers look for hotel rooms, they tend to align the experience with an ecommerce shopping model rather than the experience of using a typical app. Apps usually require registration before getting started—but that’s not what users are expecting when they want to book a hotel room.
Interviewing customers and mapping their journeys is a great way to unearth insights like this. Some important findings about a HotelTonight user might be:
Context: Users are on the go in a new city and looking to make a quick “last-minute” booking on their phones.
Motivation: They need a place to stay tonight or in the next few days. Because they’re in a hurry to book, they want to quickly find a good option, which gives them both a good place to stay and an acceptable price.
Pain points: Booking a hotel on your phone is cumbersome and takes too many taps.
Mental models: Users want to book soon and not worry about not having a place to spend the night. They want to find a good hotel at a price that’s not going to put a hole in their pockets.
Here’s what the journey for a HotelTonight user trying to find a last-minute hotel room might look like:
By taking the time to really understand their customers’ point of view, HotelTonight uncovered this critical piece of insight, which helped them improve conversions by 15%.
3. Chrome extension to web app
Proofreading tool Grammarly’s key to success is that they managed to turn their product from a tool that people occasionally use into an everyday companion.
Grammarly’s original product would proofread your writing by allowing you to copy and paste text into their text editor.
For a user trying to edit an email to their boss, the following details may be true:
Context: The user is on her computer at work and needs to send an important update to her boss.
Motivation: This user was recently hired and is eager to make a good impression on her boss. She’s nervous to email her boss in the first place and is concerned that a silly typo or awkwardly phrased sentence will make her seem careless or lazy.
Pain points: “It’s easy to miss a silly mistake when you’re proofreading your own writing.”
Mental models: The user wants to feel confident that the final draft of her email is well-written and mistake-free, even though she feels nervous and prone to making errors. She doesn’t want to ask anyone on her team to proofread her email to her boss because it feels awkward and creates too much back and forth.
The user journey map for this user might look like this:
Every time the user wants to spellcheck something, they have to open Grammarly and copy and paste at the end—that’s too much transferring between products, and there’s too much room for error. This negative experience adds a lot of friction and could discourage users from continuing to use Grammarly.
Grammarly fixed this by releasing a Chrome web extension. Turning on the extension enables Grammarly to proofread text anywhere the user is writing on the web.
Now their product can help a user write well—whether they’re composing an email to their boss or blasting internet foes on a gaming subreddit. This is how Grammarly shifted from a product that people used once in a while to one that’s always necessary.
Grammarly’s business model revolves around getting people to start using the free version of the product through the browser extension and then getting them to upgrade their plans through the web app. Therefore, moving users between platforms is critical for the success of the brand.
Ease pain points along the user journey to help users accomplish their goals
Your focus should be on creating a smooth and intuitive user journey, no matter what type of onboarding UX or product experience you’re building.
And remember: What seems intuitive to you as the product designer or marketer isn’t necessarily intuitive to users. You work with the product every day and have a vested interest; users just need to accomplish one thing, and they don’t have a reason to care beyond that.
By doing a little research and identifying what that one thing is—and helping your users get there quickly—you’ll prove that your product is valuable. And by making it easy for users to accomplish their goals the first time around, you’ll ensure that they keep coming back.
Create remarkable experiences throughout the user journey
Understanding the user journey isn’t just good for your UX—it’s good for business, too. Find out how investing in a product-led user experience can help you achieve your business goals and grow with the interactive Product-Led Growth Flywheel.
Try mapping out your user journey on a flywheel to identify gaps and opportunities to fuel user engagement and growth.
A rough example of how you can plot your existing user journey onto a flywheel
When you’re ready to start building, Appcues can help you create remarkable in-product experiences and user touchpoints at scale.