Anatomy of a Customer Journey

by Laura Seargeant Richardson, argodesign

“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between.”

Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

As a tool for innovation, nothing stands up to The Customer Journey. Revered by designers and the C-suite alike, it has the power to persuade, excite, and unify teams and organizations. I believe it is one of the most versatile tools capturing time, touch points, emotions, process, and platforms. But most importantly, a customer journey is the symphonic expression and orchestration of a company’s customer experience. A customer journey reflects the “in between” that matters most.

What is a Customer Journey? 

Companies, often departmentalized by function, know their product or service in pieces. Very few companies know the entirety of their offering or how this offering is experienced by customers as a journey. When they do, they can make thoughtful and effective decisions about where to focus investments in the design and execution of the experience. Metaphorically speaking, a customer journey is a lot like a city map. Rather than each street in isolation, a customer journey offers perspective, a view of the entire landscape and, more importantly, how each street fits into the city as a whole.

Audit or Ideal?

For any tool to work well, we first need to understand our goal for its use. When approaching the design of a customer journey, we consider its outcome—is our goal to audit the existing customer experience, or is the goal to envision the future, ideal customer journey? The audit is primarily a tool for the design team, and often serves as a framework for design research. It becomes the container for our discovery. For example, on a recent client project we audited the existing customer experience by capturing customer barriers, desires and values. The inputs to the audit were captured from the client’s existing research, interviews we conducted, as well as our experience “being” the customer. The audit also serves as the foundation for our ideal journey ideas. It provides the traceability clients might demand when they want to know why a new concept is proposed.

Customer Journey: Capturing barriers, desires and values

Capturing barriers, desires and values

An ideal customer journey is a tool for the client and the design team. It captures the breadth of the proposed solution as signature experiences – moments along the journey that are unique to the brand. Further, the ideal journey helps align an organization because every employee can visualize the future. An ideal journey may be shown as a single path, which is a high fidelity story from a customer’s perspective based on stitching and weaving a storyline together from disparate concepts. Alternatively, the ideal journey may be shown as a clustering of ideas along a spectrum, which are grouped by stage in the journey but otherwise randomly organized. Regardless of how its presented, the ideal journey showcases opportunities for improvements or new innovations in the customer experience and does so in a way that can be experienced by the client organization and design team.

New ideas randomly organized by stage of the customer journey

New ideas randomly organized by stage of the customer journey 

Common Components of Any Customer Journey

Regardless of the journey’s purpose, every customer journey has some common underpinnings.

First, a journey implies time. Time expressed as a staged, linear process is the most standard component. For example, when auditing the journey for TrueCar, an automotive client, we documented the lifecycle of car ownership. The journey started with the awareness of TrueCar, moved to building and buying an ideal car using the service and culminated in selling the car— a complete lifecycle.

Time expressed as a linear process of “moments”

Time expressed as a linear process of “moments” 

Next, a journey is typically two axes. If time is the most common axis (often represented horizontally), the other axis may explore any one of the following:


Customers experience a brand through its touchpoints. Touchpoints are a tangible moment you come into contact with a brand, such as an advertisement or when you place a call to a brand’s call center. The platform is literally how a touchpoint reaches you. The platform could be employees, a mobile app, a retail store, a Facebook page or a website. Any one platform can have one or numerous touchpoints.

International Design Awards

Customer personas or behavior archetypes

We may choose to structure a customer journey around customer personas. Personas are typically representative customers of a brand with unique needs, behaviors, desires and market statistics (income, family size, geographics location, gender). Behavior archetypes also represent customers, but they are irrespective of market driven data. Instead, these archetypes are formed by their behavior throughout the journey. Sometimes, a person can be multiple archetypes. I prefer using behavior archetypes because they aren’t as rigid as personas and they are gender neutral. 

Design lens

Design lens can also be described as “lenses for looking.” They are specific lenses we look through as we consider the entire customer journey. A lens could be perception and its impact in every phase of the journey. When we dedicate an entire journey to a lens, the vertical axis often becomes the level of impact or the level of touchpoint importance – High, Medium or Low. See the section below, “When One Journey is Not Enough” for more about design lenses. 

Tools or objects used along the journey

If our clients are not service organizations, but rather product companies, we may choose to focus on the tools or object ecosystem by understanding how the vast array of products are experienced – and the behavior that is evoked – along the customer journey.

Finally, where the two axes meet (e.g. time and platform) represents a touch point. The data that is ultimately plotted in the “in between” are touch points of the current or ideal customer experience.


a touch point moment

Adding Layers for Depth & Dimension

When two axes are not enough, three or four dimensions may be required. We frequently use icons and color to convey more information than would otherwise be possible for a printed two-dimensional graphic or poster. We consider these layers on the customer journey. Other types of dimensional information may include an emotional continuum as the customer experiences the touch points along the journey, the experience values or design principles being violated, and gaps or areas of focus.

Touch point moments violating experience values (audit)

Touch point moments violating experience values (audit)



When One Journey is Not Enough

As designers we often use various “lens for looking” to gain perspective on the customer journey challenge. For a scientific laboratory we used behavior, objects, environments, and process as our lens. For a cancer hospital, we focused on lens like perception, people, personalization, and platform. When there are too many data points or when the goal is clarity around a specific lens, one journey will not be enough to convey the information. Recently, we created six unique customer journeys to emphasize each design lens. One is shown below.


An audit journey focused on a singular lens – Perception (Click to enlarge)

What Clients Value Most

Do clients value the audit-focused customer journey or the conceptualization of the ideal experience? Both are valued, but the audit-focused customer journey brings risk. I recall at least two clients who felt that the audit of the customer experience as delivered did not reveal any new insight, while I have had several other clients who felt the audit was extremely illuminating. Regardless, the real value in the audit is for the team’s discovery and for the client’s traceability. In other words, you should do the audit to help generate the ideal journey as a team and for the client to believe the ideal concepts proposed are based on foundational insight.

Bringing it All Together

The culmination and power of an ideal customer journey is that it becomes the roadmap for the entire organization. It’s a macro view of the future and without it, clients and their employees cannot easily orchestrate the desired customer experience.

argo’s most recent customer journey was for our client FlightCar, a startup that enables travelers to loan and rent cars. We worked with FlightCar to establish their new brand and enliven the entire customer experience. This customer journey has time as a process across the horizontal axis and the two personas, owner and visitor, along the vertical axis. Layers add depth, such as key sketched vignettes, existing features, new features, and most valuable features.


FlightCar ideal journey (Click to enlarge)


When to Leave the Tool Behind

There comes a time when everyone involved in the project intimately knows the “in between.” As soon as you have agreement and understanding, it’s time to question the tool’s usefulness. In the past, design firms would continue to painstakingly update and rely on the customer journey as a continued vehicle of expression. However, smaller and leaner teams will discard it to focus on the tangible. Once you move to making explicit touch points and they begin to take form and shape through prototypes, the customer journey may no longer be needed. At some point it is no longer the map of where we are going, but a photograph of where we have been.

Laura is currently a Creative Director at argodesign and spent over a decade at frog design specializing in strategy, research and design. She is a frequent speaker at venues like MIT, IIT, SXSW, the World Congress of Play, the Creative Leadership Academy, CPSI’s Creativity Conference, and the IDSA’s World Congress. She has written on the topics of play, creativity and technology for The Atlantic, Fast Co. Design, GOOD, Gizmodo, Interactions, Innovation, Parents Magazine, Texas CEO Magazine, Korea’s Monthly DESIGN and China’s Global Entrepreneur. Her design work and thinking has also been featured by Forbes, Forrester, CNN and MIT’s Technology Review.

Master project management and creative leadership essentials with HOWU’s In-House Management Certification. In partnership with InSource, HOW’s in-house program director for HOW Design Live, we have created this unprecedented program for in-house designers. Our In-House Management Certificate is the ONLY dedicated management certificate program available for in-house designers. Learn more.


One thought on “Anatomy of a Customer Journey