User Prologue and Epilogue
by Ali Carmichael, Managing Director and Owner

User Prologue and Epilogue

How do you remember the user’s perspective in your new ideas?

When you have an idea for a new product or service, it is tempting to jump into sketching how it might look. The problem with these early sketches is that they are likely to be singularly focused on your thinking.

User journey mapping is a valuable step in designing new ideas, or even new content for your website. Creating a flow chart of how a user might travel from a landing page through to task completion helps you to pick at the detail. Thus, ensuring that the user requirements are included in your early output.

Good usability is invisible, so the aim in journey mapping is to lay the path to be slick and event-free. I often refer to a user journey as being like the pattern of a story, where the ebb and flow of a user’s micro experiences move up and down throughout.

A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and by breaking the user journey down into those three steps, you are better able to explore the needs, questions, or issues a user might have at each stage of the process. In so doing, you can shape the content and flow to encourage people to continue their journey and reach their conclusion successfully.

A simple eCommerce journey, for example, might begin on a landing page, reach its mid-point when the user decides on what to buy, and concludes with the order confirmation page that follows the check-out process. The transition between each point can vary, and users may often check out other websites in the process. It is important to acknowledge this, hinting at the difference between a website journey (page 1 > page 2 > page 3), and a user journey (website 1 > website 2 > sleep on it > website 3).

Before the beginning. After the end.

Understanding the two journeys and how they overlap is a useful process to challenge your thinking for the good of the user experience. In your day-to-day work, however, you will rarely have time to map out all the scenarios that users might find themselves in. Therefore, a tool we use to challenge our thinking and to consider the broader user journey, is to include a prologue and epilogue to our journey maps.

A prologue provides the context and describes the background for your hero’s journey. For example, the user might have researched prices on their smartphone over the last few days but are now sitting at their laptop to finalise their choice. Or, following a difficult few months, a user is looking at your life insurance products. The prologue influences the user’s information needs and their emotions as they land on your website. By exploring this, you become empathetic to the real-word scenarios, which will influence the user’s journey through your website.

The epilogue dips into the hero’s world after the main story has concluded. For example, this is what happens when a user leaves your website. This might be before the journey reaches its endpoint (because the user decides to look elsewhere), or at the end of the digital journey i.e., a Thank You page. When purchasing or subscribing, a user will want reassurance they have made an excellent choice. If they have signed up for your service, they are ready right now to continue that journey, so if you now go away to confirm their details, the user might lose their passion for your service. So the epilogue will prompt you to think about how to influence the user experience beyond your last page in this journey.

Connecting with your users

If all you do is think about how to get a user through your website, you are likely to be missing real-world insights regarding each and every one of your users. The difference can be subtle but will have a significant impact on how well your user feels connected to your brand when they land on your site.

Firstly, do not focus on getting users through your site. Instead, look at how you can a) better serve your users’ needs and expectations, and b) enhance their user journey experience. Both require some research and an empathetic approach to designing your website.

User journey mapping the beginning, middle, and end, is a standard design tool that will help you to do this. Adding the prologue and epilogue will force you to think about mapping from a user perspective (not your perspective) and will help you to provide the assurance users need to feel confident with you right from their first engagement, and to feel connected to you when they leave your website.

UX Consultant Emma Peters

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