It’s Time to Rethink the Consumer Journey
October 4th | 2017

​Customer journey mapping is a logical way to organize the elements of the consumer experience into a cohesive whole. It’s a framework that gives designers a way to better understand what users need.

But, in real life, people don’t follow logical paths. Technology, culture and basic human unpredictability mean that experience and service designers must assume that every customer journey will be unique, non-linear and fragmented. Therefore, if your narrative and benefits rely upon a linear interaction with all parts of an experience, it’s certain that the vast majority of customers/users will never experience most of them. 

A simple journey with 4 steps in fact has 24 different possible paths. And this complexity is compounded dramatically for services or experiences that operate in multiple countries or regions or that need to serve multiple levels of user expertise. That means that for any substantial service or experience design project, it’s unrealistic to map all the possible paths.

So, while journey mapping can help teams understand the different elements of a consumer’s experience and imagine them better, it’s not useful as a blueprint for actually building services and experiences.

So, what is?

There’s probably no definitive answer, but one thing that’s been helping us figure it out is a modular, post-modern approach to experience design that’s built on the idea that the overall narrative will be constructed by the user, not dictated by the brand.

The first step in following this approach is to think of individual interactions as self-contained micro-journeys rather than points along a journey. Each one of these interactions has a beginning, middle and end, which, respectively, anticipate a user’s need, perform a valuable transformation or service and deliver a functional or emotional reward. That means users will get both benefits and brand values while interacting with any individual step, rather than needing to complete multiple steps in order to do so.

The next step is make sure every interaction works, no matter when or where it occurs. That also means each interaction can happen at any point in a sequence, or in isolation, and can take place in real life or online. To ensure this kind of modularity, though, we have to make sure that interactions don’t rely on any other interaction to already have communicated vital information.

Finally, building interactions on the theory of emotional marker moments ensures we know which pieces have a dramatic impact on users. The theory shows us that emotional interactions matter more than their relative actual importance, and can, in fact, shape our entire memory and perception of a whole experience. When we know what those moments are, we can over-deliver in a few key interactions, and make a strong lasting impression on the experience overall.

When we put all that together, we get a map that still gives us the opportunity to think about connected journeys, but that also empowers us to design around the reality of fragmented and non-linear interactions.

When we create experiences this way, what we get is a modular set of interactions that can be reconfigured according to space, priority, culture or other requirements. Instead of monolithic experiences that only fit one medium or use case, we get a series of “experience atoms, molecules and organisms” that fit a much wider variety of needs.

Consumer experiences are becoming a larger and larger part of brand strategy and practice, and that means that a modular, and therefore responsive, approach is the only way to create experiences that function as brands move into the future.