Within the web industry it is common for user journey work to be produced at the beginning of a large project with the results feeding into and shaping the deliverables of the project, but what value do user journeys bring to a project post launch, or even once a site has a couple of years on the clock?
With user habits and business objectives constantly changing, user journeys are a fantastic way to analyse a website from a new perspective and highlight large and small improvements that will directly enhance the experience of users trying to complete specific tasks online.
What are User Journeys?
User journeys are a series of steps laid out in a diagram that show the journey a user takes to complete a predefined and specific task on a website. For a new website these journeys might be used to show the desired journey the designers want users to take, but for active websites we use them to identify the journeys that already exist and improve upon them.
Who is the user?
Before undertaking any user journey work you need to identify some personas or user profiles for the people actually using the website. We do this through a combination of client discussion, user research, google analytics and market insight (looking at what competitors are doing).
Once we have identified what user archetypes are using the site the next step is to figure out what journeys they are taking and more importantly, what journeys the business would like users to be taking. Let’s look at an example:
Google analytics for a gym website might show that users are visiting a page about the gym then moving on to the contact page, filling in a form to make an enquiry, However the gyms objective is to get users to sign up online and join the gym. An example of a worthwhile user journey here could be:
“A perspective gym member wants to find out about the gym and sign up”
By analysing this user journey it is likely we will identify what is preventing users from completing a sign up, and leading them to the contact page instead. Some examples might be:
- Sign up button is not noticed (too small or below the fold)
- Not enough information is provided about what membership involves
- Costs not clearly outlined
- Too many other distractions on page (other navigation, calls to action)
- Contact info stands out more that sign up.
Knowing exactly what is causing users to abandon the signup process allows us to make changes to the page that will directly improve the sites conversion rate and reduce incoming enquiries.
Who completes the user journeys
So you have now identified who is using your website and what you would like them to be doing there. The next job is to map out and document their journeys. Whilst getting real users to complete tasks is a great way to gain insight it is a costly and time consuming approach. For the sake of this post i’m going to focus on a leaner heuristic approach.
Although not as comprehensive as asking actual users to complete tasks, completing user journeys yourself can still deliver valuable results. When working through tasks you assume the identity of the defined user profile/persona and complete tasks based on how they think the defined user profile would approach the process.
Documenting what you or your test users are doing as they travel through their journey is an important part of the user journey process. There is specific software available such as Silverback which are perfect for capturing people's experiences of browsing a website. The software records the computer screen, showing all mouse movements and clicks and also records the user's face using the computer's front facing camera. This allows you to re-watch the completed journeys to analyse and reach conclusions. Using such software is an excellent approach for an in-depth process but time and budget are limited (as they often are) then a slightly less high tech approach can yield equally valuable insights.
Side by side
By far our most common approach to documenting user journeys is for one person to assume the persona of the user and complete the given tasks whilst other team members observes and documents the process. We ask the user to articulate their experiences and thought processes whilst browsing to allow for the documenter to more accurately capture the browsing experience. It is also important to note that the documentor takes the role of a passive observer and does not intervene at any point.
Once we have completed the journeys we will have amassed a collection of rather scrappy notes so the next step is…
Organising the data for analysis and presentation
At Liquid Light we have devised a simple way to show the user journeys in a clear and understandable way which uses a flow like diagram to represent the steps in a journey and is also colour coded to highlight problem areas.
Our key breaks down as follows:
For each journey we document we clearly define the details of the user.
Every time a new page is visited we use a blue square to show this.
Shown using a green circle this could be a hover or a click or reading content, any neutral or positive interaction is shown in this way.
What the user sees (passive)
This is anything that is not a direct action on the website. It could be an expression of frustration, surprise or praise from the user. We demonstrate these using a black outlined speech bubble.
Shown on our document as a red circle this marker is used for any negative experience or interaction throughout the process.
A blocker could represent the user reaching a dead end whilst browsing or it could be a literal blocker, something that prevents the user moving forward in the way they want to. We show these using a yellow hexagon.
Analysis & recommendations
With our document now showing the completed user journeys it is time to review and see what the process has highlighted. I always find it amazing that even sites that are seemingly working well can always be improved and completing user journeys is a great way to highlight areas to improve.
We like to break our recommendations into three sections; comments, quick wins and bigger changes. We use the comments field to talk about the general experience of the journeys and add any comments made by the user. Quick wins are exactly that, changes that can be made quickly and easily and improve users experiences straight away. Bigger changes, as the name suggests are tasks that would likely require further research before undertaking. If a journey requires a lot of work or even a complete rethink to improve it then this may sit with in this section but it would also be used to suggest larger enhancements such as new channels of communication or much more fundamental site wide changes.
Once we have compiled our research and feedback we present our finding to our client and discuss how they might want to move forward or prioritise workloads.
The process I have outlined in this article can be applied to websites large and small and can produce valuable insight into how to make improvements, and it needn't cost the world either!
- Put time and resource into defining accurate user personas.
- Identify tasks/journeys your users are taking.
- Work through the journeys, considering your personas at every step.
- Document your findings in a flow diagram to highlight pain points.
- Analyse and find ways to solve these possible “pain points”
- Present to client.
This is just one way of using user journeys to identify areas of improvement for our client’s websites but it certainly isn’t the only way. I’d love to hear if you have other ways of completing user journeys and i’d be happy to discuss our process further. Leave us a comment and we will get back to you.