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The Importance of Experience Maps

Jul 14 '16

When most people think of design, they tend to think of beautiful sites, beautiful images, advertising, etc. But the general word “design” actually encompasses a much broader meaning: the creation of something with intent, whether it's a product, a home, an aircraft, or even a sequence of digital interactions or experiences.

Experience design in particular is becoming a hot buzzword these days for the simple reason that software experiences are everywhere around us now and eating up industries like never before. Today, the service sector - much of it fueled by web or mobile “software” services of some kind - makes up 80% of our economy, up from 60% just fifty years ago [http://trade.gov/td/sif/PDF/ROLSERV199.PDF]. 

Services are all about delivering positive experiences. This means serving up interactions to your users in a creative and compelling way that actually solves a problem. And because so many services today are delivered digitally, this means your web or mobile site needs to fit within the context of that problem. 

However, this isn’t always easy to do. Working out context is tricky, and you usually have multiple users you’re targeting, each with their own subset of goals. Moreover, companies are typically organized around optimizing for increasing profits and cutting costs, but rarely optimized for improving the user experience (a legacy of the traditional corporate structure built up during the industrial age).    

So how can a traditional company reorient itself around the customer? 

Enter: The Experience Map

An experience map is basically a visual document that maps out your customer experience. It helps visualize who the user is, their key problem (since every product is basically just trying solve a specific problem for your user), and how your product or service attempts to solve it. 

Most experience maps include some key elements, including: 

  • a brief description of who is using the product (i.e. the primary market, or “persona”)
  • the phases and stages of the overall experiences
  • user’s thoughts and feelings at different stages (in quantitative or abstract terms)
  • system interactions (either with the hardware, web services, mobile app, or other aspects such as a sales rep, service agent, or even an ad) 
  • an opportunities section (i.e. where your product or service can be made better)

They take a lot of research to get right, but it’s a critical investment in your product. They generally look something like this: 

Experience maps

Beyond showing holes in where your experience might be falling short, the experience map does a good job of keeping brand managers, advertising units, UX designers, visual designers, project managers, content producers, front-end coders, and back-end coders on the same page in crafting the perfect experience.