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Experience Maps: Sheet Music for Design

Written by 
Mariano Suarez-Battan
November 2, 2015

In the design world, we love to make the analogy of how great designers are like jazz musicians. These Miles Davises, John Coltranes and other dream team players are said to get together and brainstorm their way to amazing ideas after just looking at a potential customer in the eye.

Great for them. But you and I are still not in that league… yet :)

I play the guitar. I'm OK, but I put a lot of energy to put a great show together by memorizing and repeating the playlist. And I compensate the lack of talent with some energy on stage.

The memorizing and repeating part is key for me to build my creative confidence. I believe experience maps are the ultimate sheet music for someone getting started in this thing called experience design.

Just as sheet music provides the framework for a song and aligns the band toward a common goal, an experience map (journey map, service blueprint, et al) serves as central document teams can rally around. Like a music score, a map breaks down experience so we can understand it, measure for measure.

Compare the sheet music below to a service blueprint created by Brandon Schauer. Both break down the flow of action into individual units and arrange them chronologically on the page so others can follow along.

Sheet Music for Design
Service Blueprint

The First and Most Important Song to Learn

Why do I think experience maps are the most important song to learn first? They combine the right mixture of empathy and holistic view that helps you not only understand problems, but eventually drive the design of laser-focused solutions.

  • Empathy is achieved by first standing in the shoes of your client and going through all the steps she has to take to accomplish her goal. Then, drill down to see which thoughts and feelings she has at each stage in the experience.
  • Experience maps also provide a holistic view - Be sure to consider what happens before, during and after the experience. Context is as important as the experience itself.

Fundamentals of Experience Mapping

When starting a mapping effort, there are several basic questions the mapmaker my first address:

  1. Point of View - Whose experiences are you going to map? Experience maps are best when they have a clear perspective.
  2. Scope - When does the experience begin and end? You’ll have to define the extent of the experience you’re targeting.
  3. Focus - What elements of an experience will you highlight? Some maps highlight actions and workflow, others highlight emotions and perceptions, and yet others focus on specific interactions and technologies (e.g., mobile experiences).
  4. Structure - How will you arrange all of the elements to present to others?  Typically, experience maps are structured chronologically in the form of a table or grid. It’s also possible to structure them hierarchically or even spatially, and different forms include circles and spider-like network diagrams.

Even though I’d recommend sticking to a template first, you can be flexible and fit the activity to your need.

Here are a few other important points to keep in mind:

  • Determine the appropriate level of formality - Experience mapping doesn’t have to take long. A basic map can be completed in a matter of hours with limited user research. More formal efforts involving in-depth research and polished diagrams can take weeks or months. Figure out the formality of your project before beginning to match stakeholder expectations.
  • Include others throughout - The map doesn’t provide the answers, it fosters conversations. Your ultimate goal is to create a shared reference for the team--something they can gather around and talk. Include others in the process of building and creating the diagram, and then plan working sessions to innovate your service.
  • You can’t control every touchpoint - Mapping experiences is a diagnostic process of uncovering touchpoints between your offering and people your serve. You may find interactions beyond your control. That’s OK--the aim is gain empathy, view your company from the outside-in, and plan a more coherent offering.

The Map as a Blueprint Towards Action

What I love the most about experience maps is that they are a platform to make change happen.

The first map will show the “as is scenario”, where you'll see which are the pain points that need to be addressed to radically improve the experience.

That will trigger a lot of what if questions until you reach one that will become your guiding star towards great ideas.

Experience Maps

Made up example right here:

Let’s say you are focusing on the supermarket shopper that was to the the ingredients for a recipe she’ll try that night to surprise some friends.

You will be able to identify that having to memorize the list could be causing her anxiety, and that she's always saying "remember the frozen onions" because she forgot it last time.

The folks from IBM Design have a great framework: who, what, wow.

"The grocery shopper who has a precise list of ingredients for a recipe, needs to remember and collect all the items, in less than 5 minutes"

You can now start brainstorming and sketching potential solutions based on that new value proposition.

Once you've decided which one to pursue, you will need to create another map with the “will be” scenario, where you define the blueprint of the experience you want to prototype and test.

How to Get Started?

  1. Get folks from different backgrounds into your session. They will each contribute observations from their perspective.
  2. If you are together in the same room, get a bunch of sticky notes or ideally cards to draw on and pictures to array them into the map.
  3. Be sure to make clear who’s experience you are mapping and do a little description of that person, their job to be done and context in which they are engaging with the product experience.
  4. Remember to think about everything that happens before, during and after the experience. Triggers the remind the person about the experience before the it actually happens will generate a lot of conversations.
  5. Sometimes it’s good to do individual silent passes at the main touchpoints and then get the team to discuss and expand.

Here’s a very cool video of Tom Wujec, fellow at Autodesk, describing some of the theory behind the process. If you are in a hurry, skip to minute 4:40 to check a cool timelapse of people doing a journey around how to make toast.

Got a distributed team?

Self reference incoming: you can naturally use MURAL to get your Experience Maps co-designed. Jim Kalbach, our Head of Customer Success and Education, recently had a popular Webinar where he shared how to Map Experiences Online.

Here’s the 4 minute version:

Want to become Satchmo?

Practice, practice, practice. 10,000 hours they say.

So: get your copy of Mapping Experiences from my colleague Jim Kalbach, follow @MURAL for upcoming Webinars, and sign up for a free trial to MURAL to check out our templates and get your team practicing right away.

About the author

About the authors

Mariano Suarez-Battan

I run MURAL, where we are making creative teams become better design thinkers through our collaboration software. We started MURAL because of a game we were designing. Ask me about that.