If you’re in the field of marketing, innovation or business, the words ‘customer journeys’, ’employee journeys’, ‘experience maps’, ‘use cases’, ‘user stories’ and similar terms might have come to your ears. These design tools offer a great way to visualize your future experience, whether it’s service, a product or platform. They help us understand our users and the differences between users, so that we can optimize our to-be experience to their needs and wishes. However – especially for non-designers – all those design terms often get mixed up and cause some confusion as to when and where they should be used.

Without going into depth about each of these design tools, I want to show how they relate too each other and why they are (generally) used. I see quite some confusion about their definition and value-add for the organization, having some basic knowledge about this topic will aid in improving discussions and decision making.

The tools: little nested Matryoshka dolls

Remember those Russian Matryoshka dolls that your grandma used to have? That’s exactly how these design tools can be viewed: a set of nested tools, from very holistic and broad to specific and narrowed down. Depending on your type of project and how far you are in the design process, you will need a different sized doll. And oddly enough, you’re not starting with the biggest doll and then opening each subsequent smaller one, but rather you work yourself up from the smallest, to biggest. Shaping the journey and experience as you go:

Just like Brad Frost beautifully draws a metaphor with atoms, molecules and organisms in his Atomic design (which is mainly focused on UX and UI design), we too can apply this approach by evaluating design tools.

Let’s take a look at each level, starting with the smallest

(Note: I’m not providing any sample deliverables in this article, Google is your best friend. This article is meant to highlight the key differences between tools, not to show how to design them.)

I. Use case (& micro-moments)
A use case (a term derived from Agile software development), refers to the notion of a user who wants to fulfill a task or action. Google call use cases – or a slight variation on them – micro-moments. In my previous article, I wrote about those in more detail. We use use cases to get to a detailed, granular level of a specific intent or action a user might have, so that we can design for it in the best way. A typical design project will have many use cases, as there are many subsequent steps a user will take.

Example customer quote: “After entering the Amazon website, I want to search for books online by entering a search query.”

II. Customer journey
A collection of use cases or micro-moments is called a (customer) journey. A journey visualizes the total, holistic experience from pre- to post-purchase (and everything in between). It helps us to understand the various touch-points and interaction channels a customer has and depicts what role each channels plays in the overall journey. Moreover, journeys are personal, which means in most cases they apply to a certain set of users with the same needs, characteristics and preferences, referred to as a persona.

In agile terms, an ‘epic’ is the term that relates most closely to a journey, offering a combination of use cases – just like a customer journey does.

Example customer quote: “My total experience from the moment I decided I want to read a book, until I actually purchased it (and started reading).”

III. Experience map
A collection of journeys for multiple personas, is called an experience map. An experience map is often used to get a better understanding of how different kinds of people have different needs across the total experience. It gives insight in the Moments that matter for each type of user, helping to decide which touchpoints to improve and invest in. For example, for a typical banking service, a millennial might find a super fast, mobile only on-boarding very important, whereas an older more conservative user attaches more value to a secure, desktop on-boarding (be able to take his time when he pleases to do so).

Experience maps are sometimes an overlooked tool, but can be very useful to compare journeys, pain points and needs.

Example customer quote: “Our combined, yet individual, experiences in how we decided to buy a book – and purchased them in different ways.”

IV. Service blueprint
Until now we’ve focused mostly on the front-stage: that what the customer sees, feels and touches – all through the eyes of the end-user. Now it’s time to include the back-stage: everything that makes the front-stage experience possible, such as IT-systems, service employees, infrastructure, internal processes and other facilitating (digital) assets.

In a service blueprint the front- and back-stage come together. With this tool, we focus on more than just the user experience: what do we – as an organization – need to do in order to realize the journey we envision? This too includes the employee journey, a hot topic in the design world, as companies increasingly come to a realization that a better experience starts with internal culture, DNA and how happy your employees generally are.

In a typical project, service blueprints are created after journey maps, as we generally tend to work outside-in: we start with the customer, and end with the organization’s operational goals, structure and strategy. Therefore, service blueprints are a very insightful tool when you want to find out how you’re going to enable the future journey.

Example company quote: “how can we setup our channels, teams, technology and employee interactions so that we can help people buy books in the easiest way possible?”

This table shows a comparison of the tools and how they differ from each other:

So you want to start doing, and stop talking?

  • I prefer to start with the future customer journey: what is that we want to offer our customer(s)? Having a specific user group in mind helps in clarifying an concretizing the brainstorm and objectives
  • From there, you move to the use cases: what are sub-steps in the journey that represent use cases for this particular target group?
  • Then, it’s time to make the experience map and/or service blueprint, depending on your project. When your MVP or prototype does not focus on a specific target group, you might want to create multiple journeys for other types of customers. When you are happy with focusing on just one group, continue and start a service blueprint to see what is internally needed to fabricate the desired journey.

Of course, there is much more to say about each of the tools and how they are best used. That’s not the aim of this article. It’s only to show your they relate to each other and their ‘relative size’, just as our little matryoshka dolls are all different, yet all perfectly align and slide into each other.

In a similar fashion, each of the tools mentioned has a specific goal and use, yet together they form a powerful holistic set of tools to shape your organization’s future.