Mapping Experiences: Five Key Questions to Get Started

by Jim Kalbach

This article was originally published on on June 12, 2016.

Kicking off a mapping project and don’t know where to begin? You’re not alone. I’m often asked how to get started.

Here’s the problem: “experience” defies precise definition. It’s a broad and fuzzy concept. You need to first untangle it and figure out what’s most appropriate.

Ultimately it’s a matter of selection. Maps are purposefully created. As the mapmaker, it’s up to you to decide which aspects to include and which to leave out.

In my book Mapping Experiences, I point to five key aspects to define:

1. What is your POINT OF VIEW?

Mapping experiences requires a common thread or a “bouncing ball” to follow. The POINT OF VIEW answers the questions, Whose experiences are you mapping, and which experiences are included?

For instance, a news magazine might serve multiple audiences: readers and advertisers. They also deal with journalists and have distributors. You could map the experience of any of these actors and their
interactions with the publisher.

One thing I recommend doing up front is to create a concept map of all of the actors and entities involved. If you arrange the elements to show the flow of value from left to right you have what I call a customer value chain diagram (below)


Example customer value chain diagram

A customer value chain diagram can help you zoom in on the people and experiences you want to map.

2. What is the SCOPE of the experience?

SCOPE refers how you define the beginning and the end of the experience. What are the boundaries?

A map of an end-to-end journey reveals the big picture but leaves out detail. On the other hand, a detailed blueprint may illustrate specific interactions, but cover less ground.

For a chronological journey map, for instance, the scope is beginning and end of the timeline, or the left and right of the diagram.

Consider the diagram below, created by Gene Smith and Trevor van Gorp. They begin the map with a phase called “Past Experiences.”

11-2 xmap.jpg

The scope of this map start with “Past Experiences”

This is an explicit recognition that people bring existing knowledge into a new experience. The scope of your map may start before the actor even gets to the main interactions.

3. What is your FOCUS?

The mapmaker also chooses the FOCUS of the diagram, or which aspects come to the foreground. There are many types of elements to consider.

In describing the individual’s experience you might focus on physical artifacts, or behavioral, cognitive and emotional aspects. You could also highlight needs, goals and challenges.

For a chronological diagram, think of your focus as the rows of information you’re going to include.

The example below focuses on the emotional experience of the customer, for instance. You can’t miss that aspect of the journey looking at this map.

10-4 EffectiveUIJourneyMapExample.jpg

This diagram focuses on the emotional experience

4. How will you STRUCTURE the diagram?

Diagrams differ in STRUCTURE. The most common scheme is chronological. This is usually represented in a large table-like arrangement with rows and columns.

Apart from chronological maps, other organizational schemes are possible:

  • Hierarchical – For instance a mental model diagram or goals-means diagram are rather hierarchical in their organization and presentation.
  • Spatial – Some diagrams represent information in a type of 3D plan.
  • Networks – You could also represent the experience in a type of spider diagram, showing relationships of disparate elements.

Combinations of the above are also possible. For instance, this example has a spatial map at the top, allowing the viewer to see the different parts of the ecosystem. Below the spatial diagrams is a typical chronological map in the form of table.

13-8 CJ-carsharing.jpg

An example of a spatial map and a chronological map in one diagram

5. How will you USE the map?

Finally, keep the intended USE of an alignment diagram in mind from the very beginning.

First, consider who will be consuming the information in your diagram. Keep the map usable for your target audience. Too much detail can overwhelm certain stakeholders. Not enough detail will leave others wanting more.

Also consider what you’ll use diagrams for. Frame the effort in a way that is appropriate for your team’s needs. What questions does the organization have that a diagram can address? What gaps in knowledge does it fill?

Finally, ask yourself how the diagram will be used. Typically, you’ll facilitate work sessions that engage a diverse team with the map.

7-2 display

Use the diagram to engage others and contribute to its meaning

To sum up, here are the five key questions to ask when starting a mapping effort:

  1. Point of view – whose experiences are you mapping and which experiences exactly?
  2. Scope – When does the experience begin and end?
  3. Focus – What aspects of information are you going to include?
  4. Structure – How will you arrange the information in a diagram?
  5. Use – How will you use the diagram to foster a conversation with your team?

In the end, there is no right or wrong way to map experiences. It’s up to you – the mapmaker – to make sure that the effort is on target and appropriate for your situation.

About the Author

Jim’s one of those UX designers who’s an active practitioner and an exceptional instructor. He is currently Head of Consulting and Education at Mural, and his background spans design roles at Citrix, USEEDS in Berlin, LexisNexis, and Razorfish. He authored Designing Web Navigation in 2007 and recently published his second book with O’Reilly, Mapping Experiences. You can follow him on Twitter @JimKalbach.

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