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Last updated on 12/5/18

Make personas and map the journey

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Personas and journey maps are two synthesis tools which 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. One of the most important aspects of personas is that they are based on actual users. Personas are one way for insuring you're remembering to design for the user.

Often times you will find yourself creating multiple personas in order to represent your different user types.

Personas should include:

  • Photo (stock image – remember, this is not a real person, but a representative one!)

  • Name (your choice! Just make sure it fits the style of your "person".)

  • Age

  • Location

  • Occupation (if relevant)

  • Frustrations

  • Needs

  • Goals

You can also include:

  • Summary or tagline of the person

  • Representative quote the person would say

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

There are countless ways to approach personas. Personas can also be updated over time as necessary. What is most important is that personas are referenced throughout the design process so you always keep in mind who you are designing for—the user!

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. In our day to day lives we do numerous actions and activities, but we often "just do it" and don't stop to think about each of the smaller actions we complete in order to achieve our goal. It is often through these "in between" moments that we are able to uncover areas of opportunity that we can design for. Through mapping it out, we are able to to talk through and discuss when, where, and how different things happen. 

Journey maps are useful look at the big picture, or zoom in to focus on one aspect of the user experience. Journey maps can also be used 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 all of the steps of a journey as a user tries to accomplish a task – like your grandmother going to the doctor to get a prescription. In addition to thinking about how someone gets from point A to B, think about what happens leading up to that moment, as well as after the "mission" is accomplished. 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 a medication refilled? These are all good questions to consider mapping on your journey map in order to fully understand the experience.

On your journey map you're not only writing down important steps to achieve the "goal", but you're also considering the mindset as well as emotional responses for each phase – for instance when is grandma frustrated, or or when is she happiest in the journey? It is likely that the moments of frustration or confusion are 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, go ahead and tape together a few sheets of letter sized paper, and voila! You have a big sheet of paper. 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 you have your problem clearly defined. This will help you determine which journey 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 on the journey map in chronological order. You can think of this step as creating a timeline of events.

Next, consider which related activities, actions, or touch points (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 in the journey does it come into play?

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

Once you have a journey map that covers all the key aspects of the experience, start to examine it critically in order to find your biggest areas for opportunity. Often frustrations provide a place to start to think about the experience in different ways. Also, in creating the journey map you may see new relationships between events or behaviors which 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.


The journey map created in the video was a very simplified journey map, 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.

Journey map template from the Nielsen Norman Group. For more examples of different styles of journey maps, check out this article. 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. 

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement