You shouldn’t use a road atlas to forecast the weather. Knowing where to find the nearest freeway might help you get to the beach, but it won’t help you determine whether it’s raining there. You’d look at a weather map for that.
User journey maps (sometimes called customer journey maps) shouldn’t be used to forecast the weather either, but they have product-oriented benefits that make them worth your while. A user journey map details how your users move through marketing and sales funnels to get a better picture of how they interact with your company and brand. The mapping process improves UX, encourages product and feature adoption, and fosters interdepartmental empathy for your customers.
Maps of the world around you differ in purpose and only reveal their true benefits when used as intended. The same is true for user journey maps. Each type of user journey map illustrates a particular dimension of the user’s experience. These variations help teams realize simple truths about their products and customers that would otherwise remain hidden.
You won’t need to consult an atlas to discover the different types of user maps and their unique benefits. A close examination of the six user journey examples below will help jump-start your transformation from budding user journey cartographer to the Rand McNally of UX.
1. Experience maps
Experience maps are the simplest type of user journey maps. They’re all about tracking behaviors at each phase of a process from beginning to end. Experience maps are used to visualize the steps someone takes to achieve a desired goal, like buying a car or ordering take-out through a delivery app.
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's point of view before you get into the weeds with more detailed user journey mapping.
Here’s an example of what an experience map could look like for a food delivery app:
Most experience maps qualify whether each individual step of the process is positive or negative. The simple design of this type of map makes it easy to determine the overall quality of a user’s journey with just a quick glance. This makes experience mapping especially helpful for working backward from a problem. Imagine users are subscribing to your product but not adopting it. You can map the interactions they had with your brand in reverse and identify if friction in earlier phases compounded your onboarding problems.
2. Current state maps
Current state maps are the most common type of journey maps. They’re a visual representation of how users engage with your product at every customer 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.
On paper, current state maps sound similar to experience maps. However, current state maps dive deeper into the mind of the customer, attempting to give reasons for why the experience for the customer is good, bad, or neutral. Experience maps are good at pointing out bad interactions, but current state maps provide further dimensions to the analysis. For example, you would log when a customer interaction occurs on social media versus within the product itself.
For example, relational database tool Airtable allows users to start on a free plan and upgrade to a paid plan when they need more records or storage space. Early on, the Airtable team realized their free version is beneficial to casual users. They also identified opportunities to monetize larger teams that have more complex organizational needs.
As a result, Airtable has prioritized helping users determine what they need from a paid plan to successfully navigate this upgrade. A current state map would help remove friction points around this process. For instance, 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. Their journey might look like this:
Using this map, Airtable identifies 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.
3. Future state maps
Future state maps use the framework set up by current state maps and shift the focus to what’s next. Mapping the future state is all about designing an experience that does not yet exist—specifically, one that improves upon the current journey.
Future state maps are like vision boards for your products. They help you 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. 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.
Companies can predict behavior to a limited extent using existing digital metrics, computer learning, and a solid analytics platform. However, no one can accurately predict the future. This means future state mapping is best considered a helpful exercise for guiding new developments, not as an absolute guide for planning business goals.
4. Empathy maps
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 after user research and usability tests, where you have a chance to observe and directly ask someone about their experience with your product in real time.
The development of empathy maps is critical to understanding your customer personas. Not every customer who uses your product will have the same motivations, needs, and pain points. This means users will experience the same product in different ways. Creating multiple empathy maps for different personas will help you to build a UX that’s positive for every kind of user your product attracts.
Empathy maps are generally used to detail broader facets of a particular user group. Alternatively, you can focus on how a specific type of user performs a particular activity to reveal broader insights about your UX. Take this mock map created in collaboration platform Miro:
Hypothetical user Mary needs to run and export reports on certain segments of users ahead of a round of A/B testing. She finds your product easier to use after your most recent update but still identifies points of friction that could be ironed out in the future. Zooming in on how a specific persona performs a relatively routine task will help you highlight places for product improvement going forward.
5. Day in the life maps
Day in the life maps are 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 address issues well before the user notices there’s a problem.
While still working with the hypothetical, these maps emphasize practicality. You would build an empathy map to construct and inform user personas, but a day in the life map illustrates how these personas interact with your product at various points throughout the day. If you manage a food delivery app, your customers are unlikely to engage with your product at 4 AM as they would during the dinner rush.
People don’t use your products in a vacuum. They exist within the context of routines and responsibilities unrelated to anything SaaS companies provide for them. Consider a user who usually starts using your product around 10 AM. By the time they open your product, they’ve dropped kids off at schools, hopped onto video calls, and answered two dozen emails. They may be frustrated before your product has even had a chance to wow them. These insights help product teams develop products built for real-world usage versus isolated experiences.
6. Service blueprints
Service blueprints shift the focus away from customer centricity and toward how companies work to deliver products and services to their customers. Service blueprints detail the individual actions performed by everyone involved in the delivery process—including the customer. By focusing on touchpoints across channels and departments, 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.
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
- Backstage actions. 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
Figuring out customer behavior is the first step in creating service blueprints, which makes them a logical bridge between more customer-centric maps and actual action plans. Your product team may identify a pain point in the user journey with a current state map and theorize how to eliminate the source friction. You could move forward with the change and hope for the best. However, this isn’t recommended. Instead, you should create a service blueprint to understand how that single change might affect the delivery process at every stage and for team members in every department involved.
The best kind of user journey map: the next one
If we still relied on maps from a thousand years ago, we’d have a hard time getting around. Our collective knowledge base has expanded as technology has improved. Entire civilizations have risen and fallen, reshaping the physical landscape in the process. A new island was discovered off the coast of Greenland as recently as 2021.
Similarly, choosing the right type of user journey map for your current needs is only half the battle. Once you’ve mapped out your user journey, you’ll need to identify how your awareness of the customer experience can be used to improve it. Even then, every customer pain point you address or every new flow you develop will alter the user journey.
This means user journey mapping is an iterative process. Tomorrow, your current state map will look like yesterday’s future state map. Instead of becoming complacent with a single instance of success, you should head back to the drawing board and identify the unforeseen ways your fixes impact your UX. Committing to this process will create a cycle of constant improvement that consistently places your customer’s needs at the forefront of your product’s development.