A paper journey map with printed lines, collumns, rows and symbols showing a user journey.

Map people’s service experiences so you can improve them. Generate new insights into what people want and need from your service. Imagine new experiences and journeys for them.

Journey mapping is a method for documenting the step-by-step journey of using a service. It’s a great way to understand in detail the experiences of your service users.

You can use journey mapping to capture and describe 2 types of experiences:

  1. Current (or 'as-is') journey mapping creates a step-by-step map of how somebody uses a service and what they do along the way
  2. Future journey mapping explores the service experience you would like to create and how you might fix the problems in people’s current journeys

You should always map current journeys first if you’re working on a service that already exists.

This article runs in two parts. Part 1 covers current journey mapping. Part 2 will cover future journey mapping.

What is journey mapping?

Journey mapping is a method for documenting the experience somebody has of using a service. You may have heard of or used other mapping techniques, like process mapping. Journey mapping is different because it focuses on human interactions. It captures the detailed experience of what somebody is thinking, feeling and doing at different stages of using a service.

When you map several people’s service journeys, you start to see commonalities across their experiences. This helps you prioritise where to direct time and resources to improve your service. It is also useful for:

  • Allowing different people involved in providing the service to understand the service as a whole
  • Enabling people to see how their role relates and interacts with another person’s role
  • To keep all service actions firmly rooted in creating a great service experience for people
  • Communicating how a service works to funders and commissioners 
  • Enabling people to feel excited and united about delivering a service

Working for a charity you may feel like you know your beneficiaries well. But you likely don’t have conversations that pick up the detail that journey mapping will.

Where journey mapping fits into the design process

Current journey mapping is usually done earlier on in a project as part of a research or discovery phase.

Journey mapping is best done during user research interviews. You can either:

  • Focus only on mapping. Use the interview just to ask questions that enable you to map their journey. 
  • Combine mapping questions and other interview questions related to your research objectives. This is the most common approach. 

This article focuses on journey mapping by doing 1-1 user research interviews but its advice can be adapted for different contexts, like workshops.

Tips on journey mapping for the first time

If you’re doing journey mapping for the first time it’s easiest to start with mapping a linear service experience. A good example of a linear journey is booking something, like an appointment. Digital journeys tend to be more linear than the parts of a service that are delivered in person. 

It’s good, if you’re doing this for the first time, to pick journeys that a wide range of people may have completed. If your service is digitally delivered you may have data that tells you which tasks or moments are the most common or difficult for people.

Also consider how easy it is to speak to people who have recently completed this journey. A journey they took six months ago will be difficult for the person to remember. Always prioritise more recent experiences for better quality insights.

Use a journey map template

Catalyst journey mapping template

Use a journey mapping template to help you visualise different aspects of a person's experience all in one place. Templates are usually grid like and contain some or all of the following rows:

  • What people are doing (actions). For example: choose a timeslot for an appointment.
  • Where they are doing it (touchpoints). For example: a phone call.
  • What people are thinking (thoughts). For example: am I free? Is that a good time for me?
  • What people are feeling (feelings). For example: stressed about finding a time that works.
  • What frustrates them (pain points). For example: there is no availability on the day I want/need to go.

The columns at the top of the map show the different stages of someone’s journey. For example: finding the service, joining it, using it, leaving it. 

Copy and reuse Catalyst's user journey mapping template (Miro format) or use Shift's journey mapping template (slide deck format).

Adapt templates to suit your needs.

Step-by-step guide to mapping current user journeys

1. Choose your journey

There should be a reason for mapping a journey. It will usually be linked to a wider research aim or problem you’re looking to explore. For example, when I worked with with The Health Foundation’s Q Community project the team were wanting to better understand people’s experience of joining the community. This would help them develop a strategy for growing the community. We mapped people’s journeys of signing up to Q.

2. Set your scope

Setting a scope is important when mapping journeys. It’s best to go end-to-end, so right from when a person is deciding to do a thing through to having completed the journey and moving on. Mapping partial journeys will lack context. With Q, we mapped from when people were deciding whether or not to join, through to being welcomed into the community and the first steps they took.

3. Recruit participants

Think about the people you need to involve. You may have data or personas that can shed some light on those who are more likely to have completed this journey. Try to involve a range of people by considering what factors may lead to people experiencing the same journey in different ways. For example people who live in a rural vs urban location, people who are digitally excluded or people with access needs.

When recruiting and getting consent from people, make sure you ask if they have completed the journey within the last 3 months. For one journey you should try to talk to 5-8 people.

3. Plan your map and questions

If you’re writing a script for your user research interviews, think about how you’ll ask the participant to talk through their journey and what you’d like to find out at each stage.

Design your map's template based on what you want to find out. Add the stages along the top and the things you want to find out down the side. You might map quite roughly in an interview and tidy it up later. You can do this on paper, or on a digital whiteboard or simply by taking notes in order. Whatever works best for you.

4. Mapping

If you’re doing journey mapping during user research interviews, it’s best to ask a colleague to help. This allows one person to guide the conversation and one person to map. 

When you ask someone to talk through their experience of completing a task or service touchpoint they will skip through their journey quickly. Allow them to do this then ask them to go back to the start and talk you through it again. If there is a step that interests you, ask them to pause and ask further questions. Be sure to ask how they were feeling at each stage of the journey.

See some completed journey maps from Catalyst funded projects in 2021:

Learn how to make sense of your journey map

Read Part 2: Future journey mapping: how to create an ideal service experience for your users

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