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Understand a user’s journey

The fastest way to understand people that will use your policy, product or service is to understand the steps that they normally take. Knowledge of their experience will help you design your work to fit into people’s lives, giving it a greater chance of success. 

We often refer to this as the ‘journey’ of a user. An example of a journey is the story of someone falling ill and leaving work: the government might see this as many interactions across multiple government departments, charities and private companies, but journey mapping highlights the user’s perspective that this is just one experience that needs improving.

It’s important to do this in a structured way so that you evidence what they do, and tell their story from the beginning to the end – even if your product, policy or service is only a small part of that story. Their journey includes all the interactions they have, regardless of department or policy or service boundaries. Interactions include any contact with organisations or people, for example seeing campaign messages, seeking advice, submitting information or getting a decision on something. These interactions could take place in any format – online, over the phone, in person, or on paper. 

When to do it

Use this tool when you are at the early stage of understanding the problem and user needs.

How to do it

You should:

  • choose a beginning and end point for your user’s journey

  • draw a timeline

  • map all the interactions or touchpoints that a user has along the journey

Try this activity

This exercise will help you understand the normal experience of people that will use your policy, product or service. It will give you a visual map of the user’s journey.

Time, space and materials

  • 30 minutes

  • any space with a long wall, sticky notes, paper, pens and a long roll of paper (and something to stick it to the wall) for a face-to-face event

  • or for a remote event use a video conference and online whiteboard that will take the place of the wall and enable participants to add and move online ‘sticky notes’


  • Draw a horizontal line along your wall or online whiteboard. At the top, write the type of user that you are going to map (e.g. teacher) and the goal that they are trying to achieve.

People to include

  • users of your policy, product or service

  • you may also want to run this activity with frontline staff and subject matter experts, but you should always validate their perception of the journey with users

  • a facilitator to give the instructions


The purpose of this activity is to think about the experience of users.

  1. Give each participant sticky notes and a pen, but hold back 1 colour.

  2. Write down all the things that happen to this person whilst undertaking this task. For example, if I was organising a dinner party I might invite some friends, choose a recipe, and buy ingredients. Make sure you write from the user’s perspective, using their language. Start with the big things first, you can add detail later. Write 1 thing per sticky note. You have 3 minutes.

  3. Stick your notes to the wall along the timeline in the order you think they happen. As you put them up read other people’s sticky notes and group similar ones together. Discuss with each other if the order is right and re-order the events where necessary. You have 7 minutes.

  4. One person should give us a quick summary of the user’s journey. You have 1 minute.

  5. Take your sticky notes and write about what happens between the big events that you have identified. Nothing is too mundane or unimportant. What is obvious to you may provoke valuable insights from another person. You have 3 minutes.

  6. Stick your notes to the wall. Work together to group and order them again. You have 7 minutes.

  7. Divide your participants up into groups or individuals. Assign them each a section of the journey. Give them the colour of sticky note that you have held back.

  8. Read all of the notes for the section you have been assigned. Write a new ‘master’ note that captures the essence of the notes that have been grouped together. There are 2 rules. First, write your master note using the words that users would use. Second, it must describe the thing that the user is trying to do, so it must start with a verb. For example, ‘drive a car’. If you cannot write a master note that captures all of the notes that have been grouped together, then think about if some should be separated out into an additional event. You have 8 minutes.

  9. One person should give us a quick summary of the user’s journey. You have 1 minute.

You now have a visual representation of the user’s experience.


  • do this exercise with your users to get the real story, rather than your perception of it. If you cannot do this, you should show your work to some users and ask them if they recognise the journey

  • adapt this activity for use with individual people or get them to work in groups

Next steps

Further reading

Find out more about this topic by searching the internet for:

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