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Last updated on 10/3/22

Create Personas and Journey Maps

Personas and journey maps are two synthesis tools that can help you get into the mindset of users to understand their behaviors, attitudes, and emotions. They also are beneficial for ensuring that the entire team is working together to solve the same problems.


Personas are created from compiling your research to define certain user types (also known as archetypes). Personas are representative, fictional examples of people compiled from multiple interviews. An essential aspect of personas is that they are based on actual users, ensuring that you remember to design for them.

You will often create multiple personas to represent your different user types.

A template written by hand that includes basic information like name age location needs frustrations and goals
Hand written persona template

Personas should include:

  • Photo (Remember, this is not a real person, but a representative one!)

  • Name (Make sure it fits the style of your person)

  • Age

  • Location

  • Occupation (if relevant)

  • Frustrations

  • Needs

  • Goals

You can also include:

  • A summary or tagline of the person.

  • A representative quote the person would say.

Here’s an example of a detailed persona provided by Cacoo.

A template that includes a lot more information like interests motivation preferences and expectations
A detailed persona template

UX & product researcher Gregg Bernstein explains the process of taking research and making it into a useful persona in this video here. [3:01 min].

There are countless ways to approach personas. They can also be updated over time as necessary as described in this Nielsen Norman Group article titled, "Are Your Personas Outdated? Know When It’s Right To Revise."  But, most important is that you reference them throughout the design process to remember who you are designing for—the user!

Now, back to our dog lovers' example. Let’s See how we can create our persona.

A simple persona example for a potential dog lover who may use our product
Dog Lovers example

Sarah represents a potential customer. There is a lot of useful information in our example, but her frustrations, needs, and goals are emphasized in this template.

Examine a Customer Journey

Journey mapping, sometimes called experience mapping, is a helpful tool for understanding user/customer mindsets and uncovering opportunities in unlikely places by examining the journey from the user's perspective. People do numerous actions and activities daily, but often without thinking about each of the smaller actions necessary to achieve a goal. You can often uncover design opportunities through these in-between moments. By mapping it out, you can discuss when, where, and how different things happen. 

Journey maps are helpful to look at the big picture or zoom in on one aspect of the user experience. You can also use them to look at the experience of one of your interviewees or one of the user types created as a persona.

Smaply provides digital tools for visualizing the customer experience. This video gives a helpful overview of journey maps, and advocates starting with a paper and pen workshop. [3:50 min]

Consider the steps a user takes to accomplish a task – like your grandmother going to the doctor for a prescription. In addition to considering how someone gets from point A to B, think about what happens leading up to that moment and after. For instance:

  • How did grandma make the appointment?

  • Did she book online? Call?

  • How far in advance?

  • Was the appointment hard to get?

Then once she's home, that's not where the journey ends. You may want to consider where and how she takes her medicine and the routine around that.

Additionally, how does she organize her medicines and keep track of them? What does she do when she needs her medication refilled? These are all good questions to consider for your journey map to understand the experience fully.

On your journey map, you're not only writing down important steps to achieve the "goal," but also the mindset and emotional responses for each phase – for instance, when is grandma frustrated or happiest in the journey? The moments of frustration or confusion are likely going to prove to be your biggest areas for opportunity

The Nielsen Norman Group shares five considerations for journey mapping. [2:42 min]

Make a Journey Map

When creating a journey map, it's helpful to step away from the computer. You need to be able to move ideas around quickly and add layers to them. You don't want to feel constrained by the materials you're working with; sticky notes and a big piece of paper are a good place to start. If you don't have a large sheet of paper, tape together a few sheets of letter-sized paper, and voila! Most of the time, journeys are horizontal, so you may want to put the sheets together in a way that fosters building a timeline.

Before mapping your user journey, make sure your problem is clearly defined. It helps you determine what you will be mapping. Another way to think about it is by asking: whose journey are you mapping?

Start your journey map by examining key milestones. Write one per sticky note. Once you have a few, place them in chronological order. You can think of this step as creating a timeline of events.

Next, consider which related activities, actions, or touchpoints (where people interact with each other or with a business) occur during the experience. For instance, if you're working with technology, what device is used, and where does it come into play?

In addition to touchpoints, you want to include the emotional response of the user. Smiley faces are one way to communicate emotion for each event on your timeline. 😃 😊 😞 😡 You can also use positive (+) and negative () symbols to note the emotional charge concerning the other experiences. Once you've looked at this, you'll likely have some undulating wave of emotions that form a graph. (Let's face it, if it were a perfect experience, you wouldn't need to redesign it.) Another way to think about emotion is what moments the user was satisfied/dissatisfied.

Once you have a journey map that covers all the key aspects of the experience, examine it critically to find your most significant areas for opportunity. Often frustrations provide a place to start thinking about the experience in different ways. Also, you may see new relationships between events or behaviors that you had not considered before. It's through the step-by-step analysis that you'll better understand the big picture of the user experience.

A timeline on a large sheet of paper with post-it detailing steps users take
Basic handmade journey map

The journey map created in the video was a very simplified version, but you can see the key events, emotional charge, and opportunity. Rather than ending the journey when grandma gets home, notice that it goes further and considers her medicine cabinet.

The Nielsen Norman Group provides this downloadable Journey map template. For more examples of different styles of journey maps, check out this article: UX Planet: The Journey Map is Key. Take a look at the sample template below.  

A template that shows many important details including the scenario and context, as well as emotions
A useful persona template

Zone A sets the persona, their situation and goals as the point of view. Zone B visualizes the experiences as a map  including actions, thoughts and the emotional response (represented by the wavy line). Zone C explores insights as it relates to business in terms of opportunities and pain points discovered.

Going back to our dog lover example. Here’s what a customer journey map could look like for our persona, Sarah.

The Journey Map for sara, a potential customer that is simplified to show actions and feelings
Dog Lovers' journey map

There are various ways to implement a journey map based on the critical information you want to emphasize. For example, our dog lover’s journey map highlights the customer’s actions and how they feel due to their actions to help us address any pain points.

Let's recap! 

  • Personas are created from compiling your research to define certain user "types”.

  • Journey mapping is an efficient tool to discover user/customer mindsets and uncover various opportunities along the journey from the user's perspective.

  • Journey maps are useful to look at the big picture, or zoom in to focus on one aspect of the user experience. 

  • Journey maps can be used to look at the experience of one of your interviewees, or one of the user types created as a persona.

Now that you’ve been through personas and user journeys, let’s discover a complementary tool to sort through the data, the affinity diagram!

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