Designing Customer Journey Maps: An Interview with Kris LaFavor

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We sat down recently to chat with Kris LaFavor, Heart of the Customer’s Data Visualization Designer, about her work designing journey maps.

What do you do when you start the process of designing a customer experience journey map?

It’s important for me to have context before I start. I make sure I understand the background material and information in regards to what the client wants to map and what they’re trying to achieve with the map. This understanding ensures that I’m not mapping extraneous information. The high-level information is plotted out first and hierarchy flows from there.

Let’s break that down a bit – what do you need to know at that high level, to understand the story and to create the journey map?

Getting a grasp of what the overall customer journey looks like and what phases the journey is parsed into is an important piece. What the client’s company does is also key basic background information. Some companies have more complex customer journeys, and other clients’ customer journeys are simpler. Our internal whiteboarding sessions are really helpful in determining where along that spectrum we map.

It’s also important to understand the client and their needs, not just for background information, but really to understand how I’m going to approach the design of the map. For example, on a recent project, the client was looking for really simple maps. I might have created more complicated maps for them if I hadn’t understood up front that that wasn’t what they were looking for or what would suit their needs.

You mentioned our whiteboarding sessions – could you explain a little more about those for our readers?

Sure – the whiteboarding sessions are lively meetings where the rest of the team and I discuss the project and make sure we’re in alignment on the broad-stroke information that will be visually mapped. We whiteboard the basic journey of the customer, start to tease out moments of truth and friction points, propose “swim lanes” that best convey the particular journey (thoughts, emotions, timeline, etc.) – content like that gets hammered out in whiteboarding sessions.

After those whiteboarding sessions, what’s the next step for you in creating a journey map?

That’s really when I start roughing out the information from the research and whiteboard session, spatially laying out how all elements fit into a standard size. First laying out phases and activities – the actual journey itself – and then adding thoughts and emotions, personas, goals, quotes, logos. At this point I’m sketching out the content, to make sure all the elements can fit and be usable/readable.

Does it ever not fit – do you ever have too much material?

Yes, and then we are tasked with heavy editing. I find that we can still get the content gist and personality across with a small amount of thoughtfully written text. In fact, in a map, concise text is far better than more explanatory text. The pithier text should live in—and works better in—the report.

Why do you think that is?

The whiteboard session is essential to an efficient process. It gives me a really good idea of what to put in, an idea of the swim lanes, how to map out the activities. It really helps me understand how everything’s going to fit, so there aren’t too many surprises.

The whiteboard session is helpful for the entire team – not just me. We talk through the journey and its implications. While it’s generally designed to create the map, we also see implications for the reporting, as we discuss the moments of truth and how they impact the rest of the journey.

So you’ve done the whiteboarding session, the journey map sketch – what happens next?

Either I’ll present sketches or the first draft of the map—depending on the project—to the rest of the project team. I’ll often work with sketches when I’m considering more than one option for design format, or if it’s a new or less-defined format: a sketch provides for more flexibility at the start. Otherwise I show a first draft – this much room for the swim lanes, this much room for the activities, etc. In a recent map, a column was needed for motivational drivers, so the existing map elements were reconfigured to accommodate that. Sometimes I’ll start layering information from the whiteboard session—sometimes it stays and sometimes it doesn’t. Specific content isn’t always included at this stage – I’ll just rough that in too.

Then I will collaborate with the engagement lead and review the first draft to assess what’s working and what needs to change. I then incorporate that work into a second draft. This process can iterate for another 2–4 rounds before we’re ready to present to the client.

How many changes do you usually make after the client sees the map?

I have yet to experience a client change the basic design structure of their customer journey map. I believe this is because we’ve developed a process to understand the client, the research, and any other information that is necessary to make their map unique and relevant.  This ensures that we’re not radically changing the map after the initial presentation to the client.

How many revisions do you usually make to a map?

The fewest number of versions has been 8, the largest number of revisions lands at 22—that was an outlier. I’d say the average is approximately 12 versions. Towards the end of the design process, many revisions are minor, but meaningful tweaks make a better final map.

(Click to enlarge)

Can you talk a bit about this journey map?

[Editor’s note: this map is based off one for a client: proprietary data has been removed, but the layout is essentially unchanged].

One overall piece of information to keep in mind whenever you’re designing a journey map is how we read – there’s science behind how we look at something. Therefore, it’s best practice to have background information, information that’s important to understanding the map, at the top left corner of the map, since that’s where we look first. Overarching elements like goals are usually in this area too.

The use of color is also important to guide the viewer – as a designer, I use color to draw in the viewer’s attention, in addition to the amount of white space to provide some “rest.” Color can make or break a map’s success – I recall revising a particular journey map where the saturation of color was so uniformly dense it was difficult to understand what elements were more important than others. The “flow” of the map was not obvious. If you make it difficult for people to read your map, then they’re not going to, and you’ve defeating the purpose of making it.

For this map, the viewer can tell what phase they are in by the segmentation devise. Depending on how confident we are with the highs and lows during the journey we use lines to represent levels of emotions, frustrations, and the like, as shown here. Again, it’s a matter of guiding the eye, and making it as clear as possible where we want attention to go, and to provide meaning to content.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to use very little text and rely mostly on graphics and pictograms, but clearly, text is necessary to explain the nuances in the map, and give high level takeaways. There’s a good amount of text on this map, but it all serves a purpose—none of it is extraneous.

(Click to enlarge)

What about this Meridian map? Can you talk a little about its design?

This map was created for Meridian Health and was featured in the book Mapping Experiences by Jim Kalbach. I am mapping a simpler journey here than the one shown on the previous map; the Meridian map focuses on the activities and emotions during the journey. One of the reasons these maps were so successful is that they are basic, and zero in on specifics. I do like some of the more detailed maps, but the simplicity of this one really allows the journey to instantly register with the viewer.

One really valuable piece of information on this map is the experience factor graphic for trust, anxiety, and healthcare savvy, found in the top center of the map. This gives relational context to their journey – if you’re asking, why are they behaving like that? just look at the experience factors and you see exactly why.

How do you choose a map’s format?

The format goes back to the question of what are we trying to show. What is the hierarchy of information, and what format will best benefit the client’s goals?  For example, if we are mapping a simpler experience or one where we want to focus on the emotional highs and lows, then a heat map works well – the focal points are obvious, and we highlight the map’s most important element. Or, a bar chart can be of use if there’s a critical phase, since it calls out that information specifically. Repetitions are best shown as just that, so they wouldn’t necessarily follow a strict linear progression.

I am always reassessing my work, and as the team and I have progressed in our mapping skills, we’ve learned that including a section for opportunities benefits HoC clients, and now it’s included in most of the maps—in addition to the report.

How long does it take you to make a map?

Approximately 40 hours, from initial to final version of a singular customer journey. If there are multiple personas or iterative maps, that obviously adds time, but at that stage, we are versioning on the first map.

What advice do you have for someone who’s making their first journey map?

Form follows function. Understand and then think about what you need to visually explain, give elements hierarchy, design to feature the important sections, and keep it relevant. Start sketching, iterate that way first, and take the time to design a map that communicates at a high level what is examined and explained in the report.

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