Narrative Journey Maps

The UX team at Caplin are always looking for ways to enhance our Usage Centered Design (UCD) process and tools because we realise the importance of UCD in helping us to uncover the pain points of our users.

When designing/refining application ‘flow’ one of the tools we use is a Narrative Journey Map (NJM).

This is a mashup inspired by other UCD techniques combined into something we find very useful. In this post I’m going to outline the NJM process we currently use – (we are always experimenting and evolving this technique). We will also be exploring the NJM process in detail as part of our upcoming Persona Driven Development workshop at SPA2010.


I first came across Design and Reality Maps on the (old) Sun blog (the new Sun WXD blog is here). Then I read The Persona Lifecycle and found the process outlined in Chapter 10: ‘Reality and Design Maps’ by Tamara Adlin and Holly Jamesen Carr.

Reality Maps

Reality maps are a step by step recording of actual interactions. I have found this invaluable as a baseline recording of the ‘here and now’. We do reality maps in real-time by laying down the track as we go along (we then go back and re-write any illegible scribbles).

During design/discovery sessions, reality mapping creates a neat artifact that can be ‘re-run’ with the participant (often uncovering more layers of detail with each re-run).

Design Maps

With design maps you can leave reality behind and explore creative concepts and flows. We use Design Mapping sometimes before wireframing/storyboarding as it allows you to park both ideas and open questions (highlighting creative opportunities for extended exploration and blocks that require further clarification).

As you rewrite/remove/rearrange steps, you can clearly see improvements to the journey – as ideas are abstracted away from GUI widgets and wireframe design, maps are a quick way of experimenting and ideation.

We use the following index card colour coding for all our mapping:

  • Green for steps
  • Blue for ideas
  • Yellow for notes
  • Pink for open questions

Persona Driven Narrative Journey Mapping

NJM can be used to map real user flow during design/discovery sessions, but they can also be used to map the experience from the perspective of a persona.

We take our persona and build a narrative around their goals and pain points in context, then we walk through interactions ‘in the shoes of the persona’ really bringing everything to life.

By syncing the ’emotional experience flow’ to the journey map, it anchors known pain points and uncovers new ones. These can then be used to inform a focused persona driven development track.

Setting the scene

We write a little narrative encapsulating the persona’s views as a prelim to the mapping exercise. Depending on what we wish to explore goals and pain points may be woven into the narrative.

Pairing: actor/observer

When producing an NJM from the persona’s perspective we have someone act out the interaction as the persona, while an observer records the interaction flow.

Encouraging collaboration and feedback

We stick our completed Journey maps on in a place where people will walk past and encourage colleagues to write comments on the map.

Re-writing the story… a happy ending?

It seems simple to go from ☹ to ☺ but in reality it can be evily complicated.
NJM can only take you so far. ‘Ideation’ is great – but we are in the business of shipping software with real benefits to our users, we don’t want satisfied customers we want delighted customers.

Extracting actionable tasks for pre-planing, theming development streams and validating the development with testing – all of this will be covered in our upcoming Persona Driven Development workshop at SPA2010.

In the end everyone loves a happy ending, and at Caplin we love happy customers. Surely this is the fundamental goal of Usage Centred Design and good service design?

One thought on “Narrative Journey Maps”

  1. Duncan! I just found this because Erik Flowers tweeted about it. Love the article. Time for me to dive into your persona development process…I’m working on publishing my own updated ad hoc process in the next month or two.

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