IA Summit 2012 Main Conference Talk
Topic(s): experience mapping, healthcare, and service design
As the sun sets on transaction-centric systems and we move into an era of cross-channel engagement and personalization, customer journeys are proving to be a critical tool in the IA/UX arsenal. However, a journey map is only as valuable as the value it provides to a project. A standard structural definition is hard to pin down because the form is highly dependent on the function—what is being conveyed—as well as the context—the role of the deliverable with respect to project stakeholders. Creating a journey map is easy; creating a valuable, believable, useful, elegant journey map is a bit more challenging.
This session will take a practical deep-dive into the process of illustrating customer journeys, from determining whether journeys are right for you, to identifying relevant components, through collaborative authoring techniques, refining visual language, and solidifying strong, value-centric narratives.
About the speaker(s)
As a Lego-loving child, Jamie Thomson dreamed of being an architect. Now, instead of houses, she creates digital structures to support health behavior change, research and decision making, consumer engagement and more. As an Experience Designer for Mad*Pow in Boston, Jamie looks to change the world through research-driven design. Prior to joining Mad*Pow, she built her research and design chops in Philadelphia working at Digitas Health and Messagefirst, addressing client needs in healthcare, technology and higher education. She holds a B.S. in Information Systems and an M.S. in Library and Information Science from Drexel University.
Jamie Thomson: So, hi, everyone. I’m Jamie. Thanks for coming out on this early Sunday morning to listen to me ramble about journeys. I don’t really like the word “customer,” because I do a lot of work in healthcare, and it’s not always “customer,” it’s “people.”
Whether you design for customers, for patients, for users, or anyone else, really, journeys provide us a useful lens through which to explore human stories and where they overlap with products, services, organizations.
At Interaction 12 last month, Intel’s Genevieve Bell challenged interaction designers to shift their perspective on interaction design from more mechanical interactions to thinking about them as more natural relationships. This is reflective of the shift that we’ve been experiencing, from largely transactional systems of utility to engagement systems that revolve around richer, more meaningful pursuits.
Engagement might just be another marketing metric for some, but I use it with heart. I use it to mean a longterm relationship of mutual respect, attention, trust, loyalty, and affection, not just a series of cold interactions with a system, a product, or a service.
So, at Mad*Pow, I recently worked on two strategic-vision projects that revolved around engagement in the health-and-wellness space. The first is a nonprofit initiative to engage women in informed, shared medical decision-making throughout pregnancy. The second is a game-like health-behavior-change platform to get people more engaged in managing their everyday habits and longterm wellness goals.
These projects shared a common challenge: To support people throughout a longterm health journey. Pregnancy obviously comes with the approximate nine-month time line, and our health behavior-change project targeted around a year’s worth of activity and the pursuit of longterm goals.
Most UX projects lean on personas to capture a person’s basic traits, needs, motivations, pain points. But personas are snapshots. They’re really just people frozen in time. People generally aren’t frozen in time. Obligatory sci-fi reference slide.
Jamie: So, as people progress through journeys in their lives, their needs and even their traits may change. In the types of projects I’ve been working on, personas really started to burst at the seams. Other traditional deliverables that push personas through time and show context include task flows, scenarios, and storyboards. But these are generally pretty focused on limited periods of time, and they emphasize interactions over holistic relationships.
On the plane here, I read an article in “Boxes and Arrows” by Andrew Hinton that had a line that really summed up this problem space that I’ve been in. He said, “What we made had to fit the contours of their lives and their emotional states and their conversations.”
Journeys allow us to put our systems, products, and services in the context of people rather than looking at people in the context of our systems. They’re user-centric in that they come from the user’s perspective, but they’re value-centric in that they emphasize the meaningful overlap between user and organizational needs.
On the pregnancy project, we were lucky enough to be creating something brand-new that we could fit and shape to fit the contours of people’s lives. We interviewed 16 women, surveyed over 2,000 women. If you ever want to get a lot of survey responses, do a project on pregnancy. It’s crazy.
Jamie: And then, we picked the brains of over a dozen experts in maternity care and shared medical decision-making. We came out with a list of major decisions and options, a list of ways that women found information about those decisions, and a sense for the emotions involved, and all of that fell along the typical nine-month, three-trimester time line.
Our first attempt to map the journey looked like this. Since most of the examples of journey maps that we’d seen had a grid structure, that’s where we started. However, we felt this really oversimplified the journey. It didn’t really do much to emphasize the opportunities where the new initiative could impact women’s lives.
We had them in there as color-coded icons, but it seemed like more of an afterthought. And there was also too much emphasis on the emotional graph and some confusion around our attempt to represent the fact that women can feel confidence and anxiety at the same time.
Our clients are extremely detail-oriented and very verbal. One actually just would not draw in the design studio that we held. So I decided to start over and compose before-and-after narratives, using comments to call out strategic recommendations and design concepts in line.
One piece of feedback we got on this initial prototype for the first persona was one of the harshest but possibly most valuable comments I’ve ever gotten from a client. She wrote, “This scenario is not based in reality.”
Jamie: In reference to a concept that we’d discussed in the design workshop. As a blue-sky idea, it was received pretty well, but after the workshop and thinking about it, it really was deemed infeasible for in the near future.
Because we used these journeys to prototype and test our ideas, we didn’t waste time wire-framing unrealistic solutions. We also decided to set up a call and have these subject-matter experts talk through hypothetical scenarios, and then we combined that with the perspectives from our user research to formulate the final journey content.
I was inspired by all those trendy, long-scrolling, one-page sites everyone’s doing these days, tossed all the content into a big Illustrator doc with sections for each decision and small visualizations to reflect emotion and decision points along the nine-month time line.
I simplified the initial fat graph that we had to this little spark line. But when we showed this to our clients, it didn’t really resonate. And when we listened to them talk about the complex nature of these decisions, became clear that we were losing some meaning that was at the heart of the initiative.
Only prose could capture the intensity and nuance surrounding childbirth and pregnancy. There’s a big difference between the cold up-tick and downtick of a line and the words “disappointed,” “gives up,” “stunned,” and “overjoyed.”
If we’re going to embrace emotion as a design consideration, we have to embrace its messiness as well. It’s not right for every project, but it was certainly valuable for us as designers and to our stakeholders as we laid the strategic groundwork for this brand-new initiative.
So this is where we landed. While everyone at Mad*Pow loved the big, long, scrolling journey, our clients wanted something they could print easily and share at meetings, read, markup while they’re traveling. There was around six main stakeholders from two organizations across four states.
It wasn’t really the place we could print a big poster and hang it on a wall and have everyone congregate around it. And we also wanted them to participate in the editing process. We created these in Word, standard, standard 8-and-a-half-by-11’s, utilized comments and tracked changes.
Based on research, we had four personas. Each journey started with an executive-summary sheet like this, to highlight the variety of opportunities, entry points, touch points, and sharing points.
Each persona faced three major decision areas, which we told the present-day story and then demonstrated how the initiative could potentially change their experience or their outcomes, or both. These journeys could stand alone, but they were delivered as part of a larger recommendations report, and the strategy and concept section refers back to sections in that report.
That concluded a strategic contract with the client, and then we moved into another project on the detailed-design phase which we’re currently doing.
For the health-behavior-change platform, there’s an existing solution, a system that we set out to make more game-fully engaging. By that, I mean non-superficial gamification grounded in psychology and digging into people’s motivational styles rather than haphazardly slapping on badges and points.
The first way we used journeys in this project was mapping the existing experience in a workshop with clients/stakeholders to establish a common baseline of the player’s relationship with the system. This was based on our user research as well as stakeholders’ knowledge of the system’s strength and weaknesses.
Using an adaptation of Jesse Schell’s game-design lenses, we individually brainstormed different mechanics and concepts, and then, as a group, with the stakeholders, pieced them together into one story to show the interplay between the player, the family, friends, coworkers, their sponsor, which is usually the employer or insurance company, and the system itself. Those are the four different colors of Post-Its here.
We digested this and some other outputs of the design workshop, retreated to our little designer-ly closet to flesh out a playbook of rules and mechanics for the game. But reading a playbook was a lot like having someone explain the rules of the game to you. You don’t really get it until you see how game play unfolds over time.
We decided to make a journey map. Our first shot of the journey map started as spreadsheet, because the client is an engineering-heavy startup and it seemed potentially useful to convey our vision in an organized, algorithmic way.
But then, we realized it was a little early to get this detailed, and also, showing the activity for every week over the course of the year seemed a little excessive. We really just needed to provide a sampling of activity over a long period of time.
We decided to tell a high-level story of goals and activities, like game highlights, to show how the different mechanisms would pop up throughout the story at different times, prodding and supporting the player in their pursuits.
The narrative blurbs at the top provide quick peeks into the player’s life each month. But since the scope of the system was pretty well defined already, fitting it into the contours of people’s lives is a little de-emphasized on this journey.
Obviously, these two journey models look nothing alike, and they only really bear some resemblance to the 50 or so other examples that I’ve looked at over the past six months. Most UX deliverables seem to have a fairly standardized appearance, but journeys are really highly variable. Their form is dictated by their function.
But when it comes down to it, most journeys serve two high-level functions. They’re incredibly useful as conversation tools for summarizing research and ideas, for highlighting and prioritizing opportunities, and getting true buy-in from stakeholders.
We’ve found that many stakeholders have an understanding of their business processes and ecosystems, but often have never seen all of the components illustrated together in such detail. Seeing a journey model is often a light-bulb moment that ensures that we’re all on the same page before we move forward.
As design tools, journey models allow us to explore a problem space through simulation, and they’re thought experiments that help us articulate the answers to the what-ifs that come up throughout research and the initial steps of design. By playing out a user’s experience over time, we build an understanding of causality, observing when various forces connect to alter a person’s emotions, opinions, and actions.
We can design idea prototypes directly within the observed context, demonstrating how the situation might change with design solutions. We can then go back to the conversation mode and test our ideas with stakeholders, and maybe users, for feasibility and desirability.
There’s no really correct form for journey deliverables, but there are three basic steps that you should follow to utilize journeys. They might happen simultaneously or loop back as needed, particularly if you’re creating them collaboratively, on the spot.
First, you need to gather your subject matter. These are just some of the common elements that I’ve used in my journey models and seen in others. Journeys revolve around one or more main actors, which may be real individual people or personas, as well as supporting actors that include representatives of your system or your system itself. Thinking of your system as an actor makes it easier to think in terms of relationships.
Jamie: Also, looking for opportunities along the journey, thinking of potential solutions, and how you might make a meaningful impact on people’s lives by changing their experience, their outcomes, or both is an important part of gathering your content.
The ways we gather these elements are standard research methods, the richer the method, the richer the story. We lean on qualitative research because of its richness, but quantitative data plays a role as wel.
Crafting a journey isn’t just for researchers and designers. We use collaborative workshops and stakeholders to map the state of existing systems and explore opportunities.
A journey model may begin and end as Post-Its on a whiteboard. Or it may be digitized and refined by designers after the workshop. There are also times, though, when we just need to get some quiet time, hole up in a room, and flush out these journeys ourselves.
At this point, you’ll have a lot of content after you’ve gathered all this stuff. A story will be starting to unfold and begging to be told. This is the most important step is to take a step back and figure out what is the best way to tell the story, based on the content itself and the context in which you have to communicate that content.
What is the journey’s role within a project or organization? What level of detail will be appropriate for your audience? Will this be a stand-alone piece or interwoven with documentation?
Can you keep it low fidelity, or do you need it polished, so you can pass it around to the bigwigs in the company? Can it be a big poster on a wall, or does it need to be something more portable?
While it’s important for us to push the limits, to get stakeholders interacting with our insights and ideas in compelling designer-ly ways, there are also many cases where we have to respect people’s learning styles, organizational culture, and just simple logistics.
The third step, once you’ve realigned your content with your goals and your contexts, figure out how to best communicate the story. This will often require a few iterations, but don’t get discouraged. There are a lot of standard deliverable formats that you might simply use, or recombine to fit your needs.
Journeys aren’t right for every project. Sometimes a task flow is just a task flow. It’s not a journey. And you don’t always need to reinvent the wheel, but don’t be afraid to try when the need arises.
Whether you’re adapting someone else’s format or starting from scratch, you have to be mindful of the fundamental components and techniques that are used to convey meaning visually. Using visual elements and treatment consistently and deliberately is important.
Leaning on Gestalt psychology principles and commonly understood techniques, like swim lanes to show action occurring across channels or actors, you can mix and match the pieces that are best suited for your needs. Don’t just think, “This is what I need to make X deliverable.’ Think, “This is what I need to tell a story.”
Journeys shouldn’t be limited to visual maps. In the paternity initiative, we took a more verbal approach, but we also threw ideas around doing a more interactive deliverable, maybe HTML based, to show the choose-your-own-adventure nature of the journey through a series of interdependent decisions.
I’ve also seen examples of video and audio used to communicate journeys. Of course, you don’t have to choose just one. Mixed media is always an option. The point is, use the right tool for the right job.
Never just try to shove your content into a particular deliverable because it’s part of your company’s standard process or a checkbox in your scope of work. We’re not creating and selling deliverables. We’re selling insight and ideas.
Always remember to take a step back. It’s really easy to get caught up in designing a fancy deliverable, beautiful diagram or cramming all your ideas into one document. It’s important to mindful of basic principles of good deliverable design and run the sanity check.
There’s four traits that make a good journey. Value stems from relevance and insight. Are you demonstrating relevant and actionable observations and solutions? There’s often a lot that you can include, but only certain things that you should include to get the job done. So you have to prioritize.
You often have to get creative to fill in the gaps in research to tell a cohesive story. So it’s important to make sure that your journeys remain believable, based in reality. When envisioning the future, push the limits, but respect constraints.
Usefulness goes back to realignment with the deliverables’ context within the project and decisions around what medium to use. Finally, elegance comes down to flow as well as aesthetic. Formal polished deliverables should be pretty with a purpose, the purpose being to gain the attention and respect of stakeholders.
Whether it’s a polished PDF or a pile of Post-Its, journeys are deep deliverables, and an elegant flow is critical in communicating the story. It’s not about picking up the message with a quick glance. It’s about taking time to walk through the experience with a person or a persona and building empathy.
Arne van Oosterom is a designer who’s written on journey mapping. He reminds us a product or a service is merely a means to an end. The real deeper value lies in the story attached. You have to be mindful of your audience, function, and form of deliverables, but above all, honor the underlying story that you’re telling, of people and how we can impact their lives.
Jamie: I don’t have the link in here yet, but I’m working on collecting this inspiration gallery. I have this really messy list of required reading right now. There’s just so many examples of these things. Really the best way to do it is to look and be inspired.
I have a Pinterest board that’s slowly growing that I’ll share a link later.
Audience Member: Thanks very much for sharing this, Jamie. I really like that. Can you talk about sample duration that your team has done on some of these elements and processes, and including touchpoints with customers and back and forth, from how much time you guys focused on it? Thanks.
Jamie: Yeah. These things happened in tandem with other activities. It’s like developing these big strategy documents. Let’s see. The first one, the “Pregnancy Journey,” went through iterations over maybe a month, just feeling out different.
It also came down to when we could get stakeholder feedback, because it was such a collaborative process.
We were writing things, constantly running it by them, because they’re very detail oriented. They were just so attached to these nuances. At first we were like, why are you so attached to these details? Then we realized it’s actually really important in the context of these decisions. So that one took a little longer.
The health behavior change one actually came together really quickly. I just came up with the idea for the visualization. It’s like Picasso, or someone, who was quoted as saying, “Someone asks, ‘How long did it take you to do this painting?'”
He’s like, my entire life, but it only took a couple minutes. It’s the accumulation of the different ideas and the exposure over time.
Audience Member: Yeah.
Jamie: Yeah. I hope that answered…
It’s tough, because you want to tell the story in the best way possible, but it’s not always worth the time that it takes to iterate and figure out these deliverables, when it’s a nonstandard format. It’s interesting.
Any other questions?
There’s been a lot of talk about journeys the last couple days, and I have a slightly different perspective on it than most people, but I don’t know.