How-to: An Experience mapping in 3 easy steps

Dan Nessler

Head Of #UX @hvzh | Lecturer @hkb_MAComDes @fhhwz @zhdk | MA in #dxd @HyperIsland | formerly w/ @scholzfriendsCH @JvM_Limmat



Sreenshot of “Dodge Durango Ron Burgundy” ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocIdLvlLFTs

Why is UX research is similar to buying a new car and how can an experience map help your research?


You start with online research, read reviews and scan through facts sheets provided by car companies and magazines. This is basically your secondary research. Then you might chat with people that drive cars that seem to match your needs and requirements. At some point, you walk down to your local dealer and talk to the choleric sales rep with his fancy suit and the well-groomed moustache that would sell contact lenses to a blind person.


At that point, you have gathered a reasonable amount of third party data and different opinions. Nevertheless, you might still not have an idea of what it actually feels like to drive your car of desire. Therefore, it is about time you hopped into the driver’s seat and went for a spin yourself!

In short:

Some secondary research (desk research) and primary research (field research) such as user interviews, expert interviews or user observations might give you a good idea about what other people and users seem to think and feel about a process or a product. Nevertheless, and unless you are familiar with the subject you are researching, you still don’t have a first-hand understanding of what a specific service or product experience feels like. That’s where experience or emotional mappings come into the human/user centred design research process.

Experience mappings let you slip into the skin of a user, a product or service is aimed at.

It is the process of getting into the driver’s seat and experiencing the subject of your research for yourself.

Three steps to your experience map

There are three simple steps to carry out an experience mapping:


  1. Plan your journey

  2. Go, do and observe

  3. Process and analyse your findings and conclude

Let’s look at these steps in some more detail:

1. Plan your journey


In order to get the most out of this you ought to be precise about what you want to do, why you do it and how you want to achieve your goals. Therefore plan your journey by asking yourself these questions:


  • WHY are you doing it? Define the ultimate purpose.

  • WHAT do you want to find out? Figure out what the journey is you want to go through and try to define and put yourself into the mindset of an existing user (use a persona).

  • HOW do you want to carry out and document your journey? Think of tools (camera, notebook, pen, audio recorder etc.), resources (e.g. do you need someone to give you access to something, what’s your team size etc.), a time, place or process that might be required.


2. Go, do and observe


  • Turn off your Mac, GET OUT OF YOUR OFFICE and walk into the real world (this might not apply if you are mapping a website process but you can still do it out of your office, and wherever a regular user would access the site ;-).

  • Visit the place you want to visit, and try to go through the user journey the way a “normal” user would do.


This sounds easier as it is: Do not forget that you go out there with a specific mindset of observing and learning. This contradicts the mindset a regular user has when doing the same thing. Bear in mind!


Pay close attention to anything and everything and document it with audio, video, images and notes (if applicable). Apply the “see, think, feel, do” framework:


  • “See, think, feel, do” framework sketched.

  • See: What can you visually register when going through the experience?

  • Think: What do these things make you think?

  • Feel: How do these things affect you and how do they make you feel?

  • Do: What do you actually do?


3. Process and analyse your findings and conclude


Once you have gone through your experience download your first “findings” as quickly as possible and share them with your team.



Downloading observations on the spot with my Hyper Island team, during an experience mapping of Ziferblat, Manchester, UK.

It is advisable that you draw up a first draft of your journey as a timeline consisting of the key stages of your journey. Then put your observations on post-its (one colour per category: see, think, do, feel) and allocate them to the corresponding stage.


Despite the fact that you want to find similarities and get a tangible overview, do not fade out individual findings and experiences. Sharing individual findings and consolidating them is not the process of taking different fruits and vegetables and blending them into a smoothie. At the end of the process, you still want be able to recognise the colours, shapes and flavours of each ingredient.


Discuss each observation in order to find pain points and delight points. Deduce insights and opportunity areas in order to have the content for your visualisation handy.


There are tonnes of different ways to visualise experience or experience maps (see some examples e.g. on uxeria.com). The look of your final deliverable depends on the audience it is tailored for. Generally speaking, the map should provide an overview of the entire journey, stages, touchpoints, key emotions and findings. Nonetheless, all individual opinions and observations should still be accessible. Here is a non-concluding list of components that may go into your visualisation.


  • Description of persona, scenario and use-case

  • Journey stages

  • The actual journey (ideally visualised)

  • Touchpoints

  • Observations (See)

  • Non-verbal reactions/statements (Think)

  • Emotions (Feel)

  • Activities (Do)

  • Pain points and delight points

  • Insights

  • Opportunity areas

  • First recommendations


Make it tangible and tell a story!


As with every deliverable it may be advisable to come up with a quick draft or prototype and have it tested to see, whether it serves its purpose and fulfils the user’s need.



Left: Various visual drafts of experience maps / Right: Small prototype in the front of
final deliverable in the bg – at Hyper Island, Manchester 

Have I sold the “experience mapping” car concept to you?


Well, wait for a second and let’s think about the test drive analogy. The thing about taking a test drive is that it only gives you a glimpse of the real thing. During the test drive, you have a clear objective and pay close attention to specific details. Nevertheless, there is no telling of how the experience of using this product affects you in the long run.


  • Is your butt gonna hurt after sitting in the driver’s seat for eight hours

  • Will your driving style result in the suggested petrol consumption?

  • Will the parking assistant actually do its job well, when trying to navigate into a narrow parking space?


That said, experience mappings are just one research methodology that comes with its pros and cons.


General advice


  • Remember: In most cases, YOU ARE NOT THE USER! No matter how good you think you are at doing this. You will always be doing it with the perspective of an observer and with a specific purpose in mind. This purpose differs from the purpose a regular user has in his daily routine. You might want to combine the findings of your journey with findings of user surveys, interviews or other research techniques.


  • Plan, conduct and analyse your journey as a team! Work collaboratively. Your personal experience might differ from your team mates experience and it is best if all team members or sometimes even stakeholders participate and share their experiences.

  • One individual experience can be crucial. Do not dismiss sentiments that seem extreme or out of the average. 

  • Cultural references are relevant. You need to know your audience!

  • Use different types of media when visualising your map (text, image, video, audio, things you picked up etc.). This is going to give your audience a better understanding.

  • Keep all raw material — you never know when you need it again to proof a point.

  • BE HONEST and do not hide or manipulate information to shape an experience the way you want another stakeholder to see it. 
  • The correlation between emotions and happenings are key — quality of experience!


Last but not least!


Have fun when doing it!


As an example, check out this not so serious experience mapping I did at a student house party:

If you enjoy this post feel free to recommend it, share it, follow me.


This article is mainly based on my experience and learning from or collaborating with IDEO.org, Matt Cooper-Wright (IDEO), Hyper Island, Gil Wildman (Plot London), Adaptive Path, User Story Mapping (Link to O’Reilly Book Store), all my fellow HI friends and team DAMMK (Anna Evans, Mabel Lazzarin, Mario, katie shelly). Thank you all.


What about AI, bots and designing for “new and no UIs” – Curious?


As a Digital Experience Designer, currently doing a master’s degree at Hyper Island, I am working on my industry research project trying to answer the following question:


How might we design interactions and experiences for new and no user interfaces (NNUIs — relating to bots, conversational UI, AI, IoT etc.)?


If this sounds interesting or beneficial to you, drop me a line on http://www.dannessler.com/getintouch


Dan Nessler

Head Of #UX @hvzh | Lecturer @hkb_MAComDes @fhhwz @zhdk | MA in #dxd @HyperIsland | formerly w/ @scholzfriendsCH @JvM_Limmat



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