Journeys, Experiences, & Mental Spaces

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  • The other day a university student named Maria Hernando wrote to ask me my opinion about the relationship between User Journey Maps, Customer Journey Maps, and User Experience Maps … and how a mental model diagram might relate to any one of them.

    I told Maria that I think of the maps as the same, or similar enough. The maps try to represent an actual example of how a person (or persona) went through and did something they wanted to do. The maps are generally chronological, moving forward through the hours of the persona’s actions one stage at a time. I told her that I think the phrase “experience map” came about because we want to be agnostic of whether the persona was using digital tools or not, or a combination to tools. The map represents the journey a person takes from the idea of accomplishing something to having accomplished that thing in the end. We want to see how it all hangs together from the persona’s perspective.

    There can be as many experience/journey maps for a particular persona as there are deviations in the way they do that thing. For example, if a persona was taking a commercial flight, there might be different maps for a business-related flight than a leisure-oriented flight. There might be different maps based on whether it’s a last-minute or urgent flight. There might be different maps for long versus short flights, flights where the persona has to get work done before landing, flights where the persona is scared of flying, etc.

    The mental model represents a set of states of mind (mental spaces) that a person might pop into and out of during this journey toward accomplishing a goal. The states of mind might proceed in a nice linear fashion. Or they might represent a more cyclical approach, where the person revisits a previous state of mind again to re-evaluate something, to continue something, or to address something new that has come up. When I combine experience maps with the mental model, what I do is add little bubbles labeled with a mental space along the journey. Sometimes the bubbles repeat themselves in this fashion.

    I wish I could share some actual diagrams, but here’s a quick sketch as an example. The experience is laid out left to right in brown, and the mental space bubbles appear in pink above, with red arrows showing the way this persona, Susan, popped into and out of Get Work Done several times during her trip. Apparently her boss had asked her to finish a report before she arrived at the meeting in Chicago the next day. (Feel free to tweak the concepts that are represented in the combined diagram of an experience map plus mental spaces. Feel free to make it prettier.)


    8 Responses to “Journeys, Experiences, & Mental Spaces”

    1. Jim Mandas of Molina Healthcare wrote a separate email asking:

      “After interviews are conducted, the preparation work for a mental model appears to be similar to the preparation work for the experience map. Per my project scope above, I can’t tell if I should create the experience map (broad view) first or mental model (narrow project scope view). I can see benefits of either approach – what do you think?”

      My answer:
      Yes, the same data provides the foundation for three things:

      – mental model diagram
      – personas (for that particular behavior which was explored)
      – experience maps (plural–there can be different maps for different personas and different behaviors, e.g. “filing a claim” versus “changing my benefits”)

      I don’t think any particular order is required. But, it can be nice to have the mental spaces (from the mental model diagram) created before making any of the experience maps. If you have the mental spaces named, you can refer/point/link to them from various parts of the experience map, thereby demonstrating that the mental spaces are not “steps in an experience” but instead they are “states of mind.” You might flip from one state of mind to another, then back again, all within one “step” of the experience map.

    2. Hi Indi,

      What do you think about adding a pain points mapping under your X map and mental spaces? Do you have any fancy way to do this?



      • Indi Young

        Hi Leo … More and more I’ve been thinking that a good experience map would contain the upper half of the mental model diagram as the top organizing structure. It’s perfect for it. The towers already include emotions/reactions, so any negative reactions (e.g. “pain points”) would already appear there. Then you can add directed graph notation beneath the towers, showing the progress a person might make, or show any of the other components of a typical experience map, as organized by the towers and mental spaces. I’ve only tried this with one client so far, but it was a strong result.


        • Patrick Quattlebaum

          Hi Leo and Indi,

          I agree with Indi that there’s a strong connection between experience maps and mental models.

          I approach it this way:

          Mental models and experience maps both focus on a person’s experience and what they think, feel, do as they try to do something meaningful and valuable to their life.

          Experience maps can take many forms. They should emphasize the key moments of the journey and key moments of that journey. They also specifically all out interactions between products/services that support needs.

          Mental models, in at least the way I’ve used Indi’s method, get to a deeper level of granularity related to tasks… they help you unpack the jobs to be done, specific considerations, and nuances that experience maps (by intent) don’t delve into.

          In this way, experience maps and the top part of mental models can be a nice 1-2 punch of providing the compelling story of the journey (experience map) with deeper dissection and insights related to each key stage or moment (towers within experience map stages). Looks like Indi is playing around with a hybrid approach, which I’d love to see more of, Indi πŸ™‚

          As for the bottom, this is where mental models and service blueprints start to align. Just as you can analyze where and existing product/service supports or doesn’t support needs across an experience using a mental model, a service blueprint can be used to find gaps between current service delivery and customer needs. And then you can, of course, design a better approach to creating better experiences and depict that in a model (service blueprints are great for this… I call them experience blueprints when I’m designing a product or when “service” causes cognitive dissonance when communicating with my partners in business and operations).

          Mental models are much stronger at juxtaposing needs and gaps than experience maps and service blueprints (which are usually separate artifacts). The above the line/below the line is brilliant information design. Something I’ve been noodling on as inspiration for better service design tools (as service blueprint reduce the customer to an actor with no emotions or thoughts…)

          See our upcoming book Orchestrating Touchpoints (Rosenfeld, 2016) for other thoughts and recommendations on how to understand and design for experiences over space and time.


    3. Indi Young

      Thanks, Patrick!

      I would LOVE to merge the two. The main difference is that journey & experience maps use the lens of the product to see a person, and mental model diagrams avoid product. So in my mind, a mental model diagram belongs at the top, then a layer of “the journey,” and then a layer of the aligned support from the organization. Although, I have not had a chance to actually draw this yet. I came close while doing a quick engagement with the Uber design research team, so maybe they’ll have some feedback.

      Aside: I don’t use the word “tasks” anymore with regard to mental model diagrams. It’s all reasoning, emotions/reactions, and guiding principles. The depth of these things goes to the roots of why people make certain decisions, why they formed certain preferences, and why they hold certain opinions. It’s the “humanity” stuff that is the same kind of thinking that you’d have heard 100 years ago. It focuses on the purpose, intent, or goal that someone is trying to achieve. Ex., “Figure out what went wrong, and fix it.” “Stay up to date with my friends.” “Plan a trip.” “Get there on time.” “Decide what’s for lunch.” Figuring out a product-free scope like these examples is the trick, because many professionals default to relating the exploration to the organization’s purpose. πŸ˜‰ If you divorce these, you get a much broader field of study, one that can lead in new strategic directions.

      • Patrick Quattlebaum

        Actually, I don’t agree that experience maps use the lens of a product. We’ve done experience maps for one’s journey with cancer, mental health issues, buying a home, etc. Customer journeys are typically what you describe as they are about customers of a product or service. Experience maps are much more flexible.

    4. Indi Young

      All the experience maps I’ve seen are through a product lens. (What I mean is, for example, in the first one AP published about the train passenger, the passenger was using a train–as opposed to “getting from point A to point B. This latter opens it up to the decision-making process of which transportation to use, and what goes through people’s minds as they weigh options. I have not seen your recent work, so I feel encouraged that it’s product-free. πŸ™‚

      I suspect that designers, especially when making a new kind of model for the first time, default to thinking from the organization’s perspective. This means “train” in the example above. So they look at a “passenger’s” experience. That already makes the person into a “user” of the type of product that the designers are interested in. It’s not a bad thing–design can’t happen without an object to design. And it has its place in solution-based research.

      I would love to try using a more open model (the mm diagram) as the top of an experience map and then layer in different types of cake and frosting, like Richard Dalton was at Vanguard, and probably is still doing at USAA.

    5. Dhritiman Sen

      Thank you kindly for this immensely helpful write-up. Best regards.