The User’s Journey Cover

The User’s Journey

Storymapping Products That People Love

By Donna Lichaw

Published: March 2016
Paperback: 160 pages
ISBN: 978-1933820-31-6
Digital ISBN: 978-1933820-36-1

Like a good story, successful design is a series of engaging moments structured over time. The User’s Journey will show you how, when, and why to use narrative structure, technique, and principles to ideate, craft, and test a cohesive vision for an engaging outcome. See how a “story first” approach can transform your product, feature, landing page, flow, campaign, content, or product strategy.

Hear author Donna Lichaw on The Rosenfeld Review Podcast

Paperback + Ebooks i All of our Paperbacks come with a FREE ebook in 4 common formats.


Ebooks only i All ebooks come in DRM-free Kindle (MOBI), PDF, ePub, and DAISY formats.


More about The User’s Journey


Lichaw delivers a creative, common-sense design method that simply works, no experience necessary. This book belongs on every experience designer’s desk.

Kristina HalvorsonAuthor, Content Strategy

You’ve heard the term storymapping before. In this detailed, tactical, and delightfully illustrated book, Donna Lichaw takes a different spin on how to bring the story of your product to life. Drawing from her days as a screenwriter, Lichaw deconstructs products into the stories they tell their users. Citing example after example from popular digital tools, Lichaw clearly illustrates how to bring the customer through various points of engagement, highs, lows and finally moments of delight. And how to do it using only Post-its and markers. If you’re working through customer journeys, experience mapping, and other ways to coalesce your team around your product’s story, The User’s Journey offers a fun, interactive way to build that narrative collaboratively to achieve great results.

Jeff GothelfAuthor, Lean UX

No one knows how to apply storytelling to designing compelling, successful products better than Donna Lichaw. The User’s Journey should be dog-eared, highlighted, and shared with everyone on the product management, design, commercial, and even development teams to know why and how story is critical to create innovative, useful, delightful products.

Chris AvoreGlobal Head of Product Design, Nasdaq

Send your customers on a hero’s journey and turn their pain points into the climax of the story. Donna’s book will help you use narrative architecture already hard-wired into our brains to create more engaging products and services.

Karen McGraneAuthor, Going Responsive

Donna Lichaw’s The User’s Journey is an invaluable guide for anyone who wants to build a better product or design a better experience. Whether storytelling is your profession (like us) or you are a newbie, you will find plenty of specific actionable advice. Do yourself a favor, read this book and share it with your team.

Bryan & Jeffrey Eisenberg, Co-Authors of Buyer Legends: The Executive’s Storytelling Guide

Stories are as old as time and can make the difference between an uninteresting experience and an awesome experience. The User’s Journey teaches you step-by-step how to incorporate the art of storytelling into your product experience.

Hiten ShahCo-founder of Crazy Egg, KISSmetrics, and Quick Sprout

Whether your audience once huddled around a fire, sits across from you in the boardroom, or will be considering your products in a crowded store, they need something more—and that’s a story. Story is the innate medium we all share to engage and hold the attention of our listeners. Drawing on years of experience with corporate clients, film, and academia, Donna Lichaw uses the tools of her trade to teach us how to use the various structures and techniques of story to engage, captivate, and motivate audiences. Get them on your side with her expertise and examples and discover for yourself how and why to use story to your advantage.

Margot Bloomstein, author of Content Strategy at Work and principal of Appropriate, Inc.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Mapping the Story
Chapter 2: How Story Works
Chapter 3: Concept Stories
Chapter 4: Origin Stories
Chapter 5: Usage Stories
Chapter 6: Finding and Mapping Your Story
Chapter 7: Using Your Story
Chapter 8: Rule of Thumb


These common questions and their short answers are taken from Donna Lichaw’s book The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love. You can find longer answers to each in your copy of the book, either printed or digital version.

  1. Is this book about storytelling?
    No. And yes. This book is about much more than what you traditionally think of when you think of storytelling. It won’t teach you how to tell a story. Rather, it will teach you how to use story and its underlying structure to craft intended experiences of use that are optimized for audience engagement, similar to what screenwriters and TV writers do with short- and long-form movies and TV shows. Plot point by plot point.
  2. Why story?
    We use story because it’s one of the oldest and most powerful ways
    that humans have to communicate with and understand the world. It governs how we do or don’t see meaning, value, utility, and affordances in both ideas and things. Story structure and its underlying principles will help you build better products. And it’s how you can get your target audience to relate to your product (see Chapters 1 and 2).
  3. Is everything a story?
    Yes. Walking down the street? Story. Using an app? Story. Thinking about a product? Story. Using online checking through your boring old bank? Story. Once you start thinking and working like a storymaker, you will ask yourself not if something is a story, but if it is or should be a good story. The better the story, the more engaged your users will be. Structure is how story engages the human brain (see Chapter 2).
  4. Who is the hero of the stories you map: the business or the user?
    As much as you want your business to be the hero of the story, your users are the real heroes. Imagine if The Wizard of Oz were about Dorothy, a damsel in distress who is saved by a knight in shining armor. It wouldn’t be her story—it would be the knight’s story. Dorothy needs to be the hero as much as your customers need to feel like heroes when they find, use, and recommend your product to their friends and family. When you map stories, you’re mapping the story you want someone to have with your product. Think of your product as Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Without your product, she would never be able to solve her problem. Chapter 2 goes into more detail about how to engineer heroes.
  5. Is storymapping some new process I have to learn?
    No. Storymapping is something you can and should seamlessly weave into your existing practice. I want you to start thinking like a storyteller—or storymaker—so that you can create products that resonate with your target audience. When you start thinking about the story, you’ll find that it’s the first thing you do at the beginning of any project and something you can easily fold into your existing process. What’s the story? You will answer this question by uncovering, mapping, and then testing the story until you get it right (see Chapters 6 and 7).
  6. How do I get started with storymapping?
    All you need are some Post-it notes or note cards, a wall or table, some markers, data, and an imagination and understanding of how story works. Once you start seeing stories in your favorite products, you’ll see them everywhere. Once you start seeing them everywhere, you’ll see how to weave stories into your own work so that you create more successful and engaging products that people love, use often, and recommend to others. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 walk you through how to map different types of stories to solve different types of business and user engagement problems. Chapter 6 tells you how to find stories through research and hypothesis development. Chapter 7 shows you how to use your stories once you’ve developed them.
  7. What is the difference between storymapping and Agile user story mapping?
    While many people often use the shorthand storymapping when referring to Agile user story mapping, they are quite different. Storymapping is as simple as it sounds: literally mapping out an intended experience of use just as you would a story—plot point by plot point. Agile user story mapping is a method that Agile developers use to organize and chart the course for large bodies of work comprised of smaller “user stories (for more on incorporating story development into Agile development, see Chapter 7).” Although the two approaches look similar (Post-its on a wall or cards on a table), they are quite different. Storymapping is a way to engineer increased engagement in your products. Agile user story mapping is a way for engineers to work.


Chapter 2: Published by UX Magazine (March 2, 2017)
Chapter 2 (partial): Published by UIE (September 14, 2016)
Chapter 5: Published in A List Apart (April 5, 2016)
Chapter 1 (PDF)


I was one of those kids who played Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), a fantasy role-playing game that involves going on quests to battle monsters, discover magical items, and drink lots of mead. My friends and I memorized spell books, castle layouts, and Elvish runes, paying more attention to types of armor than we did to types of conjugation for the next English quiz.

In D&D there are two main roles: the player character, who goes on quests in the world of the game; and the Dungeon Master, who operates that world and guides the player characters in their journey.

The first character I played was a wizard. I imagined him being tall, bearded, and wise like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings… but I was young enough that he owed a lot more to Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Either way, he was vanquished while trying to cast a sleeping spell on a rather surly bugbear.

Then I tried playing dark, gritty characters like thieves and assassins—they talked tough and fought tougher. Why, my 7th-level Rogue wouldn’t give a bugbear the time of day! Even so, he met his fate while pick-pocketing an unusually large stone giant who, drunken on mead, sat on him.

When I became a Dungeon Master, I didn’t want the players in my game to die as quickly as mine always did. Rather than crush my players’ dreams with an overly hostile world, I wanted them to have a chance of reaching their goals. That would make for a more interesting game and a far better story. But with my limited experience (I was 13), I didn’t know how to start telling the tale.


You may feel the same way. If you build products or design services, you know how easy it is to get ambushed by constraints, surprised by your competition, and buried in strategies dark and deep. You may find that coming up with that next iteration is much harder than you thought or you may get usability feedback that changes your entire approach. You may face indecision or conflicts on your team that keep you from moving forward. And even when you’re armed with data and research, it can often seem like you’re on a quest with an uncertain ending.


Donna Lichaw is here to help. Drawing on her experiences with Fortune 500 companies, public radio, filmmaking, and more, Donna helps you navigate the oft-treacherous waters of product development. She helps you not just to tell stories or use stories to promote your product, but to build your products as if they were stories themselves.

Why stories? Because they’re our oldest, best tools for communicating, teaching, and engaging with people. Because they help us understand the landscape of how people interact with our products. And because they help us understand the people themselves.

Using Donna’s approach, you’ll cast your users as the heroes of the story so that everything you do supports them in their journey. And when you help your heroes overcome their challenges, surpass their obstacles, and make progress toward their goals, you’ll also take steps toward your own.

Like Donna says, “I wish it were more complicated, but it really is that simple.”

So ready your armor, grab a cup of mead, and roll the dice. Here there be dragons, but fear not—Donna gives you the key to defeating them: story first.

Jonathon Colman

—Product UX + Content Strategy, Facebook

Note: all content and viewpoints expressed here solely reflect the thoughts and opinions of the author.