The transport map above is a representation of Medicare Part D [http://medicare.gov/part-d/index.html], as it rendered on May 21st 2013. It is my first draft*, a simple, rather crude attempt to organize key pages of a website** using a visual notation that has a very concrete yet familiar context; one that I have never used for the purpose of communicating the essence of user experience to stakeholders. I feel that this and other experience diagrams can be very helpful as facilitators of experience architecture.
The map above should be familiar, as it brings to mind similar maps of transportation systems worldwide. In one glance stakeholders can get a good and accurate sense of key 'lines' (8 in this map) and 'stations' (39 here) and these translate nicely to web pages. One can also assess the complexity and size of this section of the website, the navigability paths from one station to another, transfer options and so on. It is the user journey represented in a format that immediately transcends the high fences of boxes and arrow I typically use.
I argue that UX needs to experiment with new formats of visualization in addition to the artifacts we typically produce. Boxes & arrows diagrams and their permutations were never meant to capture and transmit the user experience. When decently executed, they are effective in communicating organization, flows, decision points and other aspects of the site's structure. But how can we invoke emotions, which is what experience is all about? Here I feel that by super-imposing familiar models of representation, such as subway maps and others I will explore later, the audience - most importantly our clients, are provided with an opportunity to think 'out of the box', to see their property in fresh yet very familiar ways.
In discussing the issue of UX diagramming with colleagues and clients, a sentiment of dissatisfaction and urgency is common: Increasingly we are involved in Mobile-First, a design strategy that requires device-agnostic, device-appropriate development of multiple experiences - simultaneously. It is becoming darn hard to create diagrams for complex sites, especially those that are highly contextual, personalized and localized to the user, in addition to supporting high variability of exceptions to business rules.
Everyone on a project, from executive sponsors through business stakeholders and on, talks about the importance of the user experience - user experience being the driver for many transformational enterprise projects - So we need means to capture and talk about the user experience directly - since in early phases of conceptualization, diagrams are extremely important because they serve as the foundation guiding work on wireframes and prototypes.
Back to the map above: We all understand what it means to negotiate public transport - We have a specific goal - getting from where we are to where we want to be - it is a very goal oriented type of activity, for most of us, at least. For example, I remember staring at the NYC subway map trying to figure it out...something about the brown or green line perhaps. As sense of urgency (a need to be somewhere on time), of realizing this will need some time to figure out - time that I did not have or want to spend. And a sense of being somewhat helpless, finally realizing that asking a passer-by is probably the best bet. This, and other life experiences are triggered by looking at the map above. It is possible to overlay the personal, physical experience, with the that of the website. Which is why I hope using a transport map can work for user experience.
Consider the audience of the Medicare website, and specifically Part D, a section that outlines the specifics of drug coverage: Eligible people (anyone with Medicare), their families, care givers, health care professionals and others. Imagine sending users to a trip in this transport system, then, look at a screen capture from the actual site, below:
A=We are in Drug Coverage (Part D) - but the tab does not provide any visual indication.
B=In the left-rail we selected the section 'How to get drug coverage'
C=And we are reading the section 'How to change your Medicare drug plan' - the left-rail has this part highlighted in Yellow, and there is a nice title on top of the text.
D=This is the kicker: The breadcrumbs do not correspond to the path we selected (A>B>C). It is an alternate, system generated path (the 1st breadcrumb is 'Home', the 2nd is 'Signup/change plan' - both not part of our ABC path), that conflicts with the user-driven path. It is an intersection of two rail systems and it is confusing.
In the next iteration of this experience map will try to represent 'D' on the experience map. I can already tell you that we will experience how the magnitude of the entire Medicare site impacts this specific Part D section, and what it can do to the user experience, having to navigate a much larger set of content.
* = To create this model I used the trial version of ConceptDraw Pro, which is easy to use and is relatively inexpensive.
** = I use the terms website or sites to also include applications and all forms of software user interfaces.