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Understand user motivation and experience

Understanding how someone feels about your policy, product or service is a helpful guide to how you could shape it.

You should consider:

  • is the task pleasurable or painful to do?                  

  • is there purpose in doing the task or is it pointless?

Understanding what is broken (the painful bits) is a way of shortlisting things to change. However, it is equally important for people to understand why they should do something. For example, government sometimes needs to get people to do things that they do not want to do, like paying tax. Also, as a country, we ask teachers and social workers to do difficult jobs and work long hours. It’s unlikely that people get into teaching to work late into the evening marking school books, but they’re often driven to teach by a sense of purpose in shaping children’s lives. Understanding how each user balances the pleasure and purpose of a task will help you design it to be better.

When to do it

Do this after you have understood the steps that a user would normally take to do something and have produced a journey map (see the chapter: understand a user’s journey).

How to do it

You should:

  • ask your users about their experience of each of task during their journey

  • get them to rate each one for pleasure-pain and purpose-pointlessness

  • report your findings visually

Try this activity

This activity will help you understand what motivates and demotivates people that will use your policy, product or service. It will give you evidence about which tasks users see as highlights or lowlights.

Time, space and materials

  • 30 minutes

  • the users’ journey map (see chapter: understand a user’s journey)

  • 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’

People to include

  • an individual user to participate (you could adapt this exercise for a group of users, but guard against users leading each other)

  • a facilitator to give the instructions


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

  1. Stick the journey map to the wall.

  2. Give users sticky notes and pens.

  3. Move along the wall, considering all the tasks. For each task, rate it as pleasurable or painful. Draw a happy face or a sad face on a sticky note and write the reason. You have 10 minutes.

  4. Go back and rate any of the tasks that were especially pleasurable or painful. Do this by putting a star next to the face.

  5. Now put another star against anything that was really, really pleasurable or painful. Put any second stars next to your first one.

  6. You’re now going to repeat the exercise but this time say whether you thought the task had purpose or whether it was pointless. Put a lightning strike for purpose and a question mark for pointless. You have 10 minutes.

  7. Go back and rate any of the tasks that were especially purposeful or pointless. Do this by putting a star next to the lightning strike or question mark.

  8. You can put another star against anything that was really, really purposeful or pointless. Put any second stars next to your first one.

  9. You now have a visual map of what motivates and demotivates your user.


  • ask open and prompting questions as you guide the user through the journey

  • repeat this activity with different users to increase your evidence base

  • record the scores provided by each user

  • remember to remove each user’s sticky notes before you interview the next user, so they do not influence each other

  • you could combine this activity with creating or validating a journey map

Next steps

  • take the scores, add them up and create a line graph, it should look like 2 spikey waves overlaid on your journey map

  • use this evidence to think about the kind of solutions that would have maximum impact on meeting user needs

Further reading

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

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