If you want to know how someone gets from one place to another, you find a map. If a map doesn’t exist, you make one yourself.
That’s what we do when a client asks us for help gaining a better understanding of a complex series of interactions with constituents in order to build a better website or more effective ad campaign. We look at the experience as a journey, determining the stages of the trip and all the important stops along the way.
All of the details that go into the map come out of a structured workshop with client stakeholders. Then we build a two-page document that captures the experience graphically.
We call the whole process experience mapping.
We borrowed the idea from Adaptive Path, a user experience and design consulting firm in San Francisco. We have their blessing, as long as we credit them when we do it. Thanks, Adaptive Path. Check!
We have mapped three experiences at Indiana University: the admissions experience at IU Bloomington, the research experience at IU Bloomington and IUPUI, and the admissions experience at IUPUI.
In the case of both admissions maps, we were preparing to redesign websites, but the clients also wanted the maps to guide their other interactions with their constituents, from campus visits to email communications.
The research experience mapping grew out of the Office of Research Administration’s desire to overhaul and simplify their web environment to make the research process easier to understand and manage, from searching for grants to reporting results.
Before the workshop happens, there are some decisions to make, and those are best supported by research that we do or that the client shares with us. For example, for the IU Bloomington admissions map, we interviewed students and counselors at several high schools in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Chicago. We also talked with parents of prospective students.
Based on the research, we establish the focus, or lens of the experience. Who are the constituents? What is the nature of the experience? This is crucial to making sure the map is useful.
If the focus is too broad, there won’t be enough detail. Too narrow, and the map won’t cover enough of the experience.
We talked to parents and counselors, for example, but the focus for the admissions map for IU Bloomington was prospective students.
We further narrowed focus by asking the Office of Admissions what was most important for prospective students and their influencers. They told us the top four drivers of college choice are career preparation, core academics, academic environment, and affordability, so we concentrated on those aspects of the journey as we worked.
The final pre-workshop decision is determining the stages of the journey.
These stay fluid, and can change over the course of the workshop, but we need a place to start. For the Bloomington admissions map they were explore, narrow, apply, wait, decide, and enroll.
The workshop consists of an introduction to the process, a review of relevant research, and two exercises. Both exercises involve participants writing on Post-its and placing them on flip charts representing each stage of the journey.
Exercise 1: participants share key moments and touch points (interactions between client and constituent) for each stage, writing brief descriptions for three facets of the experience on color-coded Post-its: what are constituents doing, thinking, and feeling at a given point? For example, during the explore stage of the IU Bloomington admissions journey, prospective students visit college websites and feel excitement at the idea of leaving home and embarking on a new educational adventure.
Exercise 2: participants focus more on the emotional aspect of the journey, generating high points and paints points for each stage, as well as opportunities for refining and improving the journey. For example, in the IU Bloomington admissions journey workshop, the waiting period after application emerged as a time of anxiety.
We ended up adding “waiting” as another stage, and participants decided that there was an opportunity to add points of contact after application so that applicants had a better sense of where they were in the process.
We facilitate the exercise, consolidate answers and remove redundancies once participants have placed their Post-its on the flip charts, and lead a discussion after each exercise to make sure the stages we started with are sufficient to represent the journey accurately.
Workshops take about four hours and we usually schedule them to include a lunch break. Workshops are most successful with between 10 and 20 participants on the client side, representing a range of stakeholders. For the research map we included representatives from administrative units, researchers, and support staff, for example.
After the workshop, we photograph the flip chart sheets, roll them up, take them back to the office, and get started on building the map. There are two views of the map: the first captures the touch points and doing, thinking, feeling information from workshop exercise 1; the second also includes the touch points, but instead of doing, thinking, feeling, it details the high points, pain points, and opportunities gleaned during exercise 2.
In addition to fitting in all the details, we decide how best to represent progress on the journey. Sometimes the path is straight through a stage; at other times it zig-zags or even moves in a circle.
Rendering the map can be challenging. It’s best if you have a graphic designer for the task; it’s crucial to make it easy to digest the information. If not, though, you can make do. We’ve included an excerpt from one of our maps, and you can find lots of examples for inspiration online.
Please contact IU Communications if you are interested in learning more about experience mapping.