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Keys to Mapping the Customer Journey for Designers

Keys to Mapping the Customer Journey for Designers

Julian Zeng

time lapse of road and sky

The traditional marketing funnel is a concept found in every textbook, but often doesn’t accurately map the customer journey

Jessica Best, director of data-driven marketing at Barkley, spoke to this discrepancy in her 2019 HOW Design Live session about the implications of journey mapping for designers.

Best described the need for marketers and designers to surpass “sales-funnel-thinking” en route to creating more personal customer experiences and inspiring higher engagement with the product. “The customer comes to you because you solve a need for them,” she said. The methods of solving that problem require thinking beyond mere marketing collaterals or campaigns.

Does It Solve a Problem? Does It Add Beauty?

These are the questions that inform Visual Communication Design and Experience Design, or “capital- and lowercase-d design thinking.” The latter encompasses branding and identity, material forms, and marketing and communication. Naming, logos, brand videos and guides, design direction and editorial add to the visual elements of your organization. Best cited Applebee’s adding some visual flair to its new Carside To-Go design as an example.

The former—capital-D design—has much heftier implications and involves physical and digital environments, as well as experience innovation, which includes prototypes, proofs of concept and design inquiry. Torn Label Brewing Company, a Kansas City-based Barkley client and case study, created physical care packages to boost their visibility. The package not only included a couple sample beers and other small products, but also coasters and light reading material about the company’s history.


The marriage of these two design concepts is crucial to any marketing strategy, which Best believes must start with discovering the fundamental truths of the brand.

What Does the Product Do to Solve a Problem?

Wingstop, another of Barkley’s clients, doesn’t believe in delivery. Why? Quite simply, because they think the quality of the product declines on its way to the customer. To not get lost in the fast food fray, Wingstop created a carryout window and integrated the physical space into its marketing campaign to increase credibility. The restaurant takes its product seriously and successfully identified the customer’s need for the hottest, freshest wings.

marketing and design banner

Spirit Airlines, infamous for its comparably cheap airfare prices, doesn’t compete with other airlines, according to Best. Rather, their competition is other modes of transport, like trains, buses or cars. They fill a need for the customer looking to stay on budget, whose alternate option is to not travel at all. Designers who can showcase human truths and provide solutions to real-life problems, Best said, find the most success. For instance, one of Best’s friends was able to frequently visit her father in hospice by flying Spirit, and had her story featured in the airline’s marketing.

Engagement Map vs. Customer Journey

A touchpoint or engagement map, while an effective tool, is 100% brand-oriented and can’t necessarily match every customer’s experience alike. Conversely, a customer-focused journey map uses collected data—often gathered through research panels conducted by survey providers—that gets to the heart of their needs without losing a sense of the company’s belief system.

The benefits of a customer-focused journey map, according to Best:

  • Increase engagement: Information delivered to current and prospective customers is more useful, relevant and engaging.
  • Earlier introduction: The company helps the customer before the customer can do so.
  • Focus on providing a solution, not just a sale: Excellent problem-solvers garner referrals and repeat business.

Mapping design assets to the customer journey builds awareness and maintains constant contact, but Best says it’s important to know when to step away and let the customer figure out what they want from a company. As Cady Bean-Smith, experience director at Barkley, says, “There’s no simple beginning or end to a customer’s experience. It includes every detail that leaves the customer with a feeling.”

Best stressed the “use of actual voices of customers in real-life situations to bring data to life.” Data is analytical, not anecdotal. No story heard off-hand about one’s brand should dictate that company’s marketing design. Rather, design should integrate robust research and design, involvement of customer service individuals, and proper corporate marketing and communications structure. Requiring in-depth customer insights in every design brief—“What do we know about the consumer?”—will drive design toward positive return on investment.

Julian Zeng is omni-channel content manager at the American Marketing Association. He may be reached at