April 14, 2016
Many companies have waded into the mobile space but haven’t seen strong outcomes from their efforts. There’s a handful of common reasons why this is happening and there are a few good techniques to help get it right.
Speed issues, bugs, usability and unoptimized interfaces are the usual suspects when trying to understand poor performance. Beyond that, many decision makers fail to understand the growth/reach vs. engagement dynamic, which often leads people to choose the wrong platform for their goals. Other times decision makers choose the wrong feature set, incorrectly determining which features are on mobile web or app.
But many hard to diagnose problems trace their roots to a lack of understanding of the user’s context. Failing to design for context often leads to features and experiences that are mismatched to the user’s needs at specific moments in time. And when users aren’t getting what they want, they close or uninstall, often for good.
Getting Journey Mapping Right
The first step to solving these problems is to understand your users better. UX designers have been using personas for years. These simple design tools allow teams to understand the different kinds of people they’re designing for. They describe a user’s demographics, needs, and pain points. But many personas fall short in describing the user’s context. After the creation of personas, another layer of new data should be added to help you hone in on context.
The next step is to understand those personas across their journey. This is because the context that they’re in when they engage with you, changes with time and situation. So it’s necessary to map the basic phases that a user goes through in their experience with your brand.
Journeys take many shapes, but they are often cycles, linear progressions, combinations or funnels.
You don’t want too many personas. They need to each represent a distinct user with distinct needs.
When mapping your journey, define it at the right granularity. Chop it up too fine, and the phases won’t be distinct enough. You’ll know if you’ve done this if you find users doing the same thing across several phases. Aim for four to seven clear steps.
Sometimes your personas all share the same journey. Sometimes every persona has a different one. Consider journeys one persona at a time.
Once you have your journey(s) done, you’re ready to build a context map. Do this by describing each persona at each stage. Think about:
- What are they needing and doing at each stage?
- What are they thinking and feeling?
- What devices are they using?
- Where are they?
- Are there specific scenarios that we need to design for?
This matrix of persona and journey stages is the map where you’ll begin to pinpoint true opportunities for mobile. It lets you look for mobile opportunities by considering where and when they have a need for us. It also allows you to start answering some key questions:
- Are there new features that are needed to satisfy the user in specific moments?
- Can we identify opportunities to disrupt our competitors?
- Will user needs be satisfied using a browser (the path of least resistance)? Or are they more likely to reach for an app?
- What would an app do that mobile Web can’t? Do they need onboard device features (cameras, GPS, SMS, messaging, address books) to complete their tasks?
- What contexts do app and mobile web make sense for?
- At what point do we think users are dedicated enough to download an app?
- How often would they use an app? How do we keep them using it across multiple phases?
You can also look for patterns that challenge your understanding of your personas and journeys.
Several personas may share identical journeys and have identical needs. Other times every persona will have unique needs. When persona requirements become too divergent, you may need to consider different apps or web experiences.
You may need to consider gaps in the experience. If you can imagine an app not delivering value to users for weeks or months at a time, you may be at risk of being uninstalled.
Sometimes personas will have unique needs that will help you develop new features that you never thought of or moments in time when messaging is important.
Consider layering emotional states over top to see how they are feeling at different moments in the process. You may be able to overcome moments of stress, frustration, or anxiety with new features or messaging.
If you can, start this process with user research. Doing research after you define your personas and journeys increases the risk of confirmation bias that might lead you to glom on to statements that confirm your assumptions and ignore user feedback that contradicts your hard work.
We also see a mobile context bias that leads organizations to falsely assume that because a user is on a phone, they only want information that is helpful when traveling. It’s a dangerous assumption. For many users, the phone is the primary (or only) device. Many rarely go to laptops anymore. The ubiquity of the mobile web has transformed our expectations. Many people will do anything on a phone: analyze data, fill out long forms, read long articles.
Phones have forced us to hone our offerings down. Gone are the days when companies can bloat web pages with right rail cruft. The process of prioritization is hard and often contentious work. User research can help identify and prioritize content and let you make the tough calls.
The ubiquity and intimacy of mobile phones make it critical to understand the context of our users. And it’s only by adding the dimensions of place and time to the persona that we can accurately understand the full scope of the user’s needs. This knowledge helps us make more informed and intentional decisions about how to design for mobile.