Techniques for user journeys and storyboards

In our last couple of Experience Design classes we’ve looked at techniques for planning and visualising a user journey, and how to storyboard specific scenarios within that journey. We did this using low tech techniques (sketching, post-it notes, paper), to help focus on the process itself rather than the tools.

User journeys

A user journey is a representation of the path a person takes through an overall experience, whatever that experience may be – going to work, shopping for food, planning an event, and so on. This journey is a physical, mental and emotional one. The purpose of capturing a user journey as part of a design project is to gain empathy with users. To design a user experience, we need to really understand the process people go through, empathise with how they think and feel along the way, and look for obstacles and opportunities to improve the experience.

The first exercise we tried was to create a user journey based on the process of creating, uploading and sharing a video. The mapping used a simple matrix, with stages of the process along the top, and aspects of the experience along the side axis. These aspects are:

  • Actions: what the user would be doing at each stage
  • Questions: what they are likely to be thinking or asking themselves at each point
  • Happy points: good aspects of the experience
  • Pain points: problems or issues they might be facing
  • Opportunities: ideas for improving the experience and addressing the pain points.
user journey map
Group exercise to map a user journey of planning, shooting and publishing a video

The next exercise took the example of planning a party. In groups again, we brainstormed what the stages would be, and mapped actions, happy/pain points and opportunities. The matrix also includes requirements (what would be needed to implement the opportunities). The exercise was lots of fun and really makes you think both logically (to plan the process and detail) and laterally (to anticipate issues or unexpected aspects of the experience).

User journey map - party planning
User journey map for a party planning experience


A storyboard is a visual representation of a sequence of related events, and is often used for film and video production. In experience design projects, a storyboard can be used to visualise a specific scenario within a user journey. The process of storyboarding helps you think through the emotional side of the experience and what is important to the user at each point. A user journey storyboard can use the same techniques as a storyboard for a film or TV advertisement, where the storyboard is a sequence of frames showing the content and angle of each shot, together with any supplementary information such as script or sound effects.

To learn about framing/shots and practise basic drawing skills, in our first exercise we drew a long shot and a close-up of the same scenario. The brief was to draw a classmate in a dangerous situation, so we had a bit of fun with that!

The second exercise was to create a 12 frame storyboard for a TV advertisement, based on a given scenario. We first decided how the scenario would divide into 12 frames, by thinking about the sequence and judging what was needed to communicate the story to the viewer. We then sketched out each frame, thinking about what sort of shot and view angle would be appropriate for the content and provide a smooth, logical sequence. This exercise was not about drawing ability, but about communication – the sketches just have to be good enough to communicate the content and intent of each frame.

These were interesting, enjoyable exercises and I found them a good way to focus on how to analyse and communicate a user experience. The physical act of sketching helps to get creative juices flowing and allows you to try out ideas quickly and easily. Our next step will be to apply these techniques to our own experience design project.

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