A Comprehensive Guide to User Journey Mapping

A Comprehensive Guide to User Journey Mapping

One of the toughest challenges that every product company faces is how to reconcile the dichotomies of perception — between the way a developer and a user views the same product. Imagine this. A prospective university student looking for key information on a college website is bound to get overwhelmed if the website is only filled with marketing and PR content. The impact can vary from being mildly bothering to deterring students from joining altogether. A classic case of dichotomy of perception.

Representation of Dichotomy of perception - Apxor
Representation of Dichotomy of Perception from xkcd.com


Software products are part of a buyer’s market and they are much susceptible to a similar dichotomy of perception. The user or buyer decides whether he/she finds your product as an apt fit to his/her needs. Thus it is a simple and smart strategy for the product company to align their entire development process to the user’s perspective. The team of designers, developers and testers who already have a clear Inside-Out view of the product, need to learn how to look from Outside-In. This is the crux of the User Centric Design principle of product development. To achieve this, one of the most powerful tools in the hands of the development team is User Journey mapping.


What is User Journey mapping?

When a product designer/developer creates a comprehensive relationship map between the product and its potential user, the process is known as user journey mapping. This involves a study of your user’s interactions with the product at various stages of familiarity with the product (known as the User Lifecycle). It also deals with the user’s interfacing with the product through different channels (Website/App, One time buy/SaaS model).

It takes a great deal of intuitive analysis for a product designer to understand each user action and what is the motivation behind the action. With the aid of a user journey map, it becomes easier to trace the user’s movement within the product — what they like to do, where do they falter, what features do they avoid, why do they exit, and so on.

When should it be done?

The exercise of compiling user actions in a journey map can happen at different times:

Before going live for the first time

The most challenging aspect at this stage is that it is a pre-emptive analysis of user behaviour. So it’s entirely speculative. At early stages, UI prototypes may be employed for the exercise.

Course correction based on product usage data analysis

During quarterly/periodic product review, if there is an indication of user exits or plateauing of usage, then journey mapping can help figure out what’s going wrong.

Through the user lifecycle phases

This is a critical consideration. More about this in the next section.

User Journey Mapping through the User Lifecycle

Apxor - User Lifecycle
User Lifecycle


1) The life cycle begins with the first encounter (Awareness), when the user hears about the product and is sufficiently enthused to try it out. This phase involves product/app installation, trial version download, guest login access, and such initial steps. In this phase, the user has a pre-conceived notion of what he/she needs and is hoping that those needs are met by the product.

Journey maps must capture initial user impressions, competitive evaluation, first touch-points.

Sign up screens

2) The user then proceeds to feel his/her way through the product (Evaluation). Only the most critical/obvious use cases are performed in this phase. This is a make or break phase. Unless the user is reasonably hopeful about the product’s adequacy to meet his/her needs, there is a high chance of an exit from the product. Onboarding the user onto the product is now your key responsibility.

Journey maps must look into aspects such as free/paid usage, exit points at this phase, number of steps to completion of basic use cases. User journey maps must capture the onboarding process in great detail. This is a critical aspect of user engagement.

Apxor - User onboarding sample image
Create an easy user onboarding walkthrough

Check out how to create great onboarding experience here.


3) The product is able to meet the user’s mandatory needs, so he/she proceeds to acquire the product (Purchase). This step varies in function for free to use products, one-time purchase products and SaaS subscription services. Now you have a paying customer. It’s time to be doubly careful.

User journey maps must provide simple purchase routes, and talk about customer engagement in greater detail now.

Apxor - App nudging to purchase
Nudge to purchase

4) During the regular usage of the product (Experience), all product features may not get equal attention from the user. At this stage, familiarity with the product is high.

User Journey maps can focus on good features that even the regular users tend to miss/neglect.

Apxor - Showcase your features
Showcase your features

5) The user is now a committed stakeholder in the product ecosystem, with high degrees of loyalty to the product. To the extent that he/she is ready to recommend the product to other people (Advocacy). The newly referred user is now ready to begin the lifecycle all over again.

User Journey maps can look at what methods expert users employ to recommend the product to others.

Apxor - App asking user for referal
Ask for referral

Getting your team ready for User Journey mapping

Steps in user journey mapping
Apxor - Steps in user journey mapping 
  • User Profiling — Most products have several segments of users accessing them. It might not be feasible to draw journey maps for all of them. The prudent thing would be pick the most frequent type of user, or the user profile which has the highest exit rates from the product. This will maximise the impact of the exercise.
  • Product Goals — There is no point in looking to improve user engagement in general. We need benchmark goals against which to measure whether we have ‘sufficient’ user traction or not. They can be based on download / subscription / renewal targets.
  • UI prototyping — Helps to visualize the subsequent user actions, so that a designer can anticipate the chosen user path from the available options within the application. This is for journey mapping at the early design phase before the actual UI/backend is ready.
  • User Journey Map template — There are general purpose templates and tools available online. But most product teams prefer to create their own customised template to capture critical, product specific aspects.

We have built the premise for User journey mapping, detailing all the preparatory information and activities. It’s now time to get into execution mode. Now we present to you a concise and intuitive User Journey Map template for product teams to use (or customise if need be). We then proceed to demonstrate how to use the template to perform User Journey Mapping for some real world example use cases.

User Journey Map Template

The template above assimilates several aspects of a user’s journey. The idea is to capture the user’s background, expectations and needs at various stages of the user lifecycle. So that appropriate solutions can be worked out for each of those needs. Let’s delve into these aspects one by one in the following step by step guide.

Apxor - Template for creating a user journey map
Template for creating a user journey map

Step-by-Step guide to creating a User Journey Map

  • Customer persona — Is it the person making the purchase decision, the installation in-charge or the actual end user? All three roles are key targets. They might even be played by the same person. Define the customer’s demographic background, role and authority clearly.
  • Lifecycle Phases — Now the rest of the journey map is divided into the user lifecycle phases.
  • Touch Points — All points of interface between the human user and the product. They may be within the product or outside entities (software features + product team members).
  • Customer needs — All the user’s basic needs must be compulsorily met, expectations may not always be met. The product may satisfy the customer’s needs in another way, sometimes better than the user’s expectations!
  • Expectations — These are generally what the users have in mind based on their past experience with other products. Or the dissatisfaction they have with other available solutions towards meeting their needs.
  • Metrics — Measuring user experience is a tough call. But some metrics can help in gauging the effectiveness of each chosen solution. Metrics can be non-standard ones, there is no rule here. Number of steps to accomplish the first complete task, What % of user needs are covered by a chosen solution, price point comparison with competitors, support effort involved post sales, NPS to measure customer loyalty — all these are good metrics to have.
  • Solutions — Finally map the needs of the user to the suggested solutions. The whole purpose of this exercise is to identify the best solution that matches the user needs at each phase of the user lifecycle. There are always multiple ways of carrying out a task, we must prudently choose the way that suits the user and costs the product team minimum investment/effort.

User Journey Map example — Cab hiring app

A complete example will help to get the basic idea. Let’s trace the user journey map for the following use case:

The example taken is for customer journey mapping with a cab hiring app, such as Ola or Uber. Since the example is a generalisation, app specific features are not discussed. However, the user is a typical end user of mobile apps. Hence it will be easy to relate to.

Apxor - Example of user journey map for a cab hiring app
Example of user journey map for a cab hiring app

Results and analysis

There are usually multiple solutions derived out of every user journey map. These serve as inputs to the product design and development teams. The choice of the final solution implementation is a matter of careful balance and deliberation. Factors such as development effort, minimising support intensive features, uniformity across access channels (website/mobile app, etc), modularity and ease of upgrade in future versions are key considerations to make the choice of final solution.

The product team could do well to keep 3 important axioms in mind before finalising the chosen solution from the user journey map.

  • Listen to your customer / Don’t listen to your customer

Listen carefully to what the customer needs. But not what he/she thinks is the way it must be met. You are in a much better position to decide the method to fulfil those needs.

Read here on how to take real customer feedback at the right moment.

  • Listen to your competitor/ Don’t listen to your competitor

Listen carefully to the solutions on offer from your rival products. Just to figure out where you stand with respect to competition. But do not blindly duplicate what they come up with, even if they are successful. For every good solution, there is certainly a better solution.

  • When the opinions of your tester and developer differs, listen to your tester

Testers are proxy-users within the organization. They are the best people to interpret the user journey map and design system test cases accordingly. When developers visualise a solution and it differs from the testers’ perspective, mostly the tester is closer to what the end user wants.

You are all set to create your own User Journey Map now. Hope you enjoyed reading through the article as much as we enjoyed compiling it.

Apxor can help you in building a user-centric app by helping you understand your users and delivering personlized experiences.

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