A Beginners' Guide to User Journey Mapping


When you're building a product, it's easy to develop tunnel vision. 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 until you show them what your product 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 probably came to you because they want to do one specific thing. Maybe they downloaded your 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 you 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 users are coming from and what they want to do. Creating maps of users' journeys within your product helps you align this context and motive to create UX flows that get users where they want to go.

By getting into the heads of your users with these journey maps, 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, how to create them, and see examples from several industries.

What is a user journey map?

The user journey is a timeline of user actions that describes the relationship between your brand and its customers. It's all of a user's interactions, from their point of view.

Photo of a man using his phone while experiencing a UX onboarding flow

Mapping the user journey creates a timeline of all touchpoints between a customer and your organization—and all channels they happen in.

A really simple user journey map for your weather app could look something like this:

User journey mapping flowchart

These user journey maps help your company gain insight into how users experience your product, based on their unique motivation 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. This fosters a more customer-centric approach to product building, which leads to better customer relationships.

Mapping out customers' experiences allows you to understand several important factors that shape the overall impression they will end up with. These include:

  • Why they downloaded and opened the app
  • How easy the app is to understand and use immediately
  • How long it takes them to accomplish what they came there to do
  • How well their experience extends across multiple channels, and where they experience gaps

This information helps you understand what motivates your users and what they're most likely to find helpful. Then you can use this information to create an experience that hooks them to your product.

In the next section, we'll explore what it takes to create a user journey map that serves this purpose.

How to create a user journey map for your onboarding UX

A map of the user journey can include the whole process from the moment a person learns about your product, through becoming a customer, to the point at which they stop using it. Or it can focus on a specific part of this flow—like the onboarding flow.

Here's how to get started understanding your customers and their journeys.

1. Start by working from your personas

Your user personas are generalized profiles that outline archetypes of your common users. They help you understand who you're building for. This gives important context for why users take certain actions within your product, and what they're hoping to accomplish when they use it.

Begin by creating hypotheses about the different types of users in your product. Then, through a combination of product analytics, user surveys, and market research, you can validate these hypotheses. If you're just getting started with user personas, Price Intelligently CEO Patrick Campbell explains step-by-step how to create user personas in this detailed guide.

User journey buyer persona

For example, your weather app might have the following user personas:

  • The commuter
  • The picnic host
  • The forgetful gardener

Once you have your user personas drawn out, start creating user journey maps for each of them. As a minimum, you want to have at least one map per persona to understand how each type of customer interacts with your product, and what they need to do in order to accomplish what's meaningful to them.

Once you have your user personas drawn out, start creating user journey maps for each of them. As a minimum, you want to have at least one map per persona to understand how each type of customer interacts with your product, and what they need to do in order to accomplish what's meaningful to them.

2. Great user journeys are based on research

User research is critical in understanding the experience of users. There are many different ways in which you can collect and systemize feedback. You're probably already getting a lot if you have a product that's up and running.

 At this stage, it is critical to learn about the motivation of users—what problem are they looking to solve when they come to your app? Different user segments will probably have different reasons to use your app, so you can start by developing hypothesis as to what drives each user to download.

Your research should focus 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?
  • Mental Models: How does your user conceive of the problem space that your product addresses? What concepts and connections come naturally to them, and what do they need to be taught?
  • Pain Points: What are the challenges users are facing? Is your product helping them solve these or aggravating them? Are there any obstacles they have to using your product?

For example, your research for your weather app's buyer personas might look something like this:

The commuter

An image of a man on a bike - user persona is a commuter
  • Context: It looks like rain right now
  • Motivation: I don’t want to get wet on my way to work, or on my way home
  • Pain Points: I need 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

Photo of a couple at a picnic - user journey
  • 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: I want to know with certainty what the weather is going to be a few days in advance 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 sunny. I’ll try to find a day with both, but prioritize temperature if both aren’t available.

The forgetful gardener

User journey gardner
  • 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 just care about the last 3 days, but a really major rainstorm would soak them for a week. Total precipitation is all that matters.

The next step is to validate and refine your hypotheses by talking to your real customers. Feedback you're already getting from customers is the first place you should look as that's readily available for you to analyze and process. There are many additional methods you can apply to collect data from customers — including A/B testing, running surveys, and interviewing customers.

3. Map out their journey

While you may eventually make a map for every persona, you can start by making a single general map of the general user journey.

The information you collect allows you to create a timeline of your user's interactions with your brand and product. This timeline could include things like:

  • User touchpoints
  • Benchmark actions and accomplishments within the app
  • Scheduled notifications

Here's an example of what a user journey map could look like for a productivity app:

A chart of positive vs negative feelings in a user journey

The user journey map should note the channels in which these interactions happen to ensure that the user is getting a consistent experience across all 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 was going to talk to an agent, it would make most sense for them to do it within an online live chat box, since they'll be on the go.

At each step in the user's journey, you can also note the emotional state of users (based on customer feedback and behavioral analytics). Look for the steps that confuse them and/or make them angry. This will allow you to target areas that can affect the whole experience you're offering your customers.

Examples of user journey maps

Your user journey maps will be highly specific to your product and unique users. However, there are general similarities between certain types of product experiences that you can use as a foundation.

Below, we've outlined three general product experiences:

  • Upsell to paid account
  • Ecommerce shopping flow
  • Chrome extension to web app

We've provided an example of a product with this type of onboarding UX, and described how each company might get started creating their user journey maps.

We've provided an example of a product with this type of experience, and described how each company might get started creating their user journey maps.

Upsell to paid account

Airtable, a relational database tool, has built a product experience where users can start on a free plan and upgrade to a paid plan when they need more records or more storage space. The team realizes that their free version of the tool can be really beneficial to casual users, but that there is 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.

These details are important for understanding and mapping a user journey in Airtable:

  • Context: As our company is growing, we need to find a better way to organize our blog publishing process.
  • Motivation: Content marketing has provided us with a scalable way to acquire customers, but managing the pipeline has become too time-consuming.
  • Pain Points: There are menial tasks about organizing the content calendar that waste too much time. Our process is spread between too many services—editing docs, storing images to be used in the final blog post, etc.
  • Mental Models: “My time is best spent when I'm focused on coming up with interesting topics to cover on our blog and when I spend time editing and improving the content.”

For instance, if the CMO at a startup is looking for a better way to organize his content team's workflow, he might consider upgrading from a free plan. Here are the steps in his journey:

User journey table

Using this map, Airtable can find the critical points in the journey that can make or break their success. For example, the user experiences a huge point of friction when he can't decide between annual and monthly billing.

A screenshot of Airtable's pricing page (Feb 2018) shows a potential point of friction along the user journey

By adding a “Save 17%!” message to the annual billing option on the pricing page, it makes it easier for visitors to make a decision which billing cycle to choose.

Ecommerce shopping flow

Hotel Tonight scored a big win when they realized a key factor in 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. Here's what some important details might be for a Hotel Tonight user:

  • 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: “I want to book soon and not worry about not having a place to spend the night.” “I want to find a good hotel at a price that's not going to put a hole in my pocket.”

Here's what the journey for a Hotel Tonight user trying to find a last minute hotel room might look like:

User journey table

This user journey creates a positive customer experience by taking into account the need for speed and users' reluctance to create an account before booking.

Hotel Tonight user journey


By investing the time to understand the experience of their customers, Hotel Tonight has uncovered this critical piece of insight, which helped them improve conversions by 15%.

Chrome extension to web app

Grammarly has managed to amass close to 7 million users to its proofreading tool since 2008. The key to their success is that they managed to turn their product from a tool that people use occasionally to an everyday companion.

Grammarly's original product would proofread your writing by allowing you to copy and paste text into their text editor.

User journey Grammarly

A user trying to edit an email they're sending to their boss might include these important details:

  • Context: User is on her computer at work and needs to send an important update to their 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 error. 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 Grammarly user might look like this:

user journey table

This kind of negative experience could discourage users from continuing to use the product. It also adds a lot of friction. Every time the user wants to spellcheck something, they have to open Grammarly and copy and paste at the end. It's too much transferring between products and there's too much room for error.

Grammarly fixed this by releasing a Chrome web extension. Turning on the extension would enable Grammarly to proofread text anywhere the user was writing on the web.

A screen shot of Grammarly on an email

Now their product could help a user write well—whether she's composing an email to her boss or blasting internet foes on a gaming subreddit. This is how Grammarly shifted from a product that people occasionally used to one that was constantly 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.

This kind of negative experience could discourage users from continuing to use the product. It also adds a lot of friction. Every time the user wants to spellcheck something, they have to open Grammarly and copy and paste at the end. It's too much transferring between products and there's too much room for error.

Ease pain points along the user journey to help users accomplish their goals

No matter what type of onboarding UX or product experience you're building, your focus should be on creating a smooth and intuitive user journey.

What seems smooth and intuitive to you, as the product designer or marketer, isn't necessarily as smooth and intuitive to users. You work with the product every day and have a vested interest. Users just need to accomplish that one thing, and they don't have a reason to care beyond that.

But if you know what that “one thing” is for your different types of users, and you help them get there quickly, you'll prove that your product is valuable. By making it really easy for users to accomplish this the first time, they'll want to keep coming back to do that again and again.

I coach traditional companies on building design into their DNA, so they can stop looking for unicorns and get on with building brilliant digital products.