User research

Creating an experience map

Experience maps provide a visual representation of what users do, think and feel over time, from the point they start needing a service to when they stop using it.

Speaking to a range of users will help you understand all the events, transactions and related services they may experience throughout their journey. Consolidating these into a single map will help you to understand:

  • how users experience the current service
  • how things work (or don’t)
  • interdependencies - for example, between different departments or services
  • pain points and where things are broken

When to use experience mapping

Experience mapping works best for services that take place over several weeks or months (for example, applying to become a UK citizen or setting up a business) and involve:

  • lots of separate steps or events
  • more than one location - for example home, a departmental office, the post office
  • different people or teams
  • several related services or service touchpoints

Steps to follow

Create experience maps with your team so that everyone can learn more about your users.


You need to capture the experience of several users before you create an experience map. Once you’ve done this:

  • choose a quiet location with a wall (or table) large enough for you to arrange your cards and create a map
  • invite your team to help - reviewing users’ experiences will help them make decisions about how to design and build the service
  • gather the event cards you used to capture users’ experiences and stacks of different coloured sticky notes or index cards
  • decide a colour-coding scheme for your sticky notes - for example, blue for journey stages, yellow for steps in a process, green and red for emotional high and lows

Identify common stages

Start by:

  • laying out event cards for each participant in a row
  • line up common events
  • break the rows into stages
  • name each stage you’ve identified - use your colour-coded sticky notes to remind people that your aim at this point is to create a simple map - it’s ok to start with only a few stages and iterate as you understand more

Once you’ve laid out your users’ journeys, decide how many maps to create. You should:

  • create one consolidated map if all your research participants went through the same stages and similar steps
  • create separate maps for different user groups if participants went through different stages and significantly different steps

Build up the experience

Once you’ve established the stages you want to include, you need to add the steps involved in each. Together, these will form the ‘spine’ of the experience.

You can add to this by extracting important information from event cards. Look for evidence of:

  • emotional highs and lows - record these on different coloured sticky notes and add relevant quotes
  • people’s reactions and thought processes
  • service touchpoints
  • which channels the service is delivered through
  • user needs at specific stages

You can also add photos and artefacts collected during your research.

Live with the map

Once you’ve created a draft map, move it to your team area. Over the next few days or week:

  • talk it over with your team
  • show it to lots of people - for example, people who observed your research with users, teams who deliver parts of your service, other researchers
  • review, rearrange, rename and reword things until you’re happy the map is both clear and accurately reflects your users’ experience

Draw a detailed map

Once you’re happy with your draft map:

  • draw it in your preferred graphics application
  • print it at large scale and stick it on a wall in your team area

Your map can be based on a simple grid design that shows the stages, steps and activities your users experience over time.

Use your map to structure discussions about your users’ experience and how you’re working to improve it.

Share a summary map

Most people outside your team won’t be interested in detail, so make a summary map that you can share. This should:

  • just show stages and key findings for each stage
  • include a few images and quotes
  • be self-explanatory - you shouldn’t have to explain it further
  • be easy to read on both screen and paper

Examples of experience maps

You might find the following blog posts about experience mapping useful:

You may also find the Plan a round of user research guide useful.

Last update:

Guidance first published