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The best solution is a solution that will be built

Cathrine Gunasekara

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with David Hendee, Director of Design at Carbon Five, to learn about Experience Mapping – a great technique to scope your project so that you can get to a MVP as quickly as possible.

When we are building products we are often focused on climbing the hill we are on, making what is already existing just a little bit better. This is referred to as the Local Maximum. We do this either because we don’t see the other hill, or we think it will be too much of an investment to go to another market or invent something new.

Design thinking is particularly good for finding other hills to climb and with this Experience Mapping activity you can easily explore completely new product ideas and make some critical decisions about your MVP in one afternoon. The point of the activity is to transform your crazy new idea into something actionable that can be built, tested and validated as quickly as possible.

David Hendee facilitating an Experience Map activity

The product

Most likely you already have an idea you’d like to test at this point, but if not, a good way to come up with one is to think of..

1. What is really hot right now? Anonymous messaging platforms, on-demand delivery services, photo manipulation etc

2. What’s a problem that we have? Think of the last time you felt frustrated with something, either an interaction with a product or a situation.

3. Then combine them! UX designer Krysta Curtis has written a great Medium post about a similar technique, she calls it Paint-by-idea.


Experience Mapping

For this part you need a mixed team (preferably not more than 9 people) including the Product Manager and developers, a stack of different colored index cards, masking tape and a large table.

Start by thinking about who are the different players interacting with your product. Let’s take the example of a café and the action of purchasing a coffee. The players would be the customer, the cashier and the barista. In addition we have the software that places the order and handles the payment process and the artifacts the players are interacting with like the physical space itself, coffee cups, coffee machine etc. Lastly we must not forget what triggers each interaction.

Experience mapping Carbon Five

Now that the roles have been defined, assign them a color, and think of all the touch points and interactions between these roles.

What to write on the different cards:

Yellow cards represents artifacts or triggers.
Pink cards represents your customer
Green cards represents someone front of house of your business (or another secondary player in the experience)
Red cards represents someone back of house of your business
White cards represents support or software actions (you want to limit these as much as possible)

Notice that the green and red cards don’t always have to represent someone at front and back of house on your product, but use these cards to represent secondary players in your experience – whatever role that is in relationship to the customer.

In my example of the café, the first trigger would be the customer seeing a café and deciding to enter, so write down “café” on a yellow trigger card. Then the customer will stand in line, the cashier will greet the customer, the customer will order a coffee, the cashier will register the order and so on.

Experience mapping front card


User Stories

After writing all the different interactions on one side of the cards, flip over each card and write the individual user story on the back by using this template:

“As a [role], I can [perform an activity] so that [user goal].”

User Story

Experience map roles, interactions and user stories.

The user stories are your features and the cards are reminders of what needs to be built for whom and why. When all the interactions are mapped out with user stories written on the back, it’s time to add a twist to the game:

You can only keep 10 cards to build your MVP! Which ones will you keep?

The sooner you focus on designing the interactions for the most critical parts of the experience the better. Don’t waste time on the login screen if that’s not critical for the core of your product. Can you build your MVP without a logged in state?

A Minimum Viable Product is the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value (and as a bonus captures some of that value back).
— Ash Maurya

Another important tip for creating a MVP is to forget about all edge cases. If the product won’t work in the best case scenario with your target user, then who cares about the “what if’s”? Once you know that your product idea is at least a hit amongst one group of people in one particular scenario, then you can work on finding a way to make it also work for the edge cases.

Whichever of the 10 cards you end up keeping, remember the best solution is the one that will actually be built. Only then you can learn, iterate and make it better.


You can read more about experience mapping and story triage on Carbon Five's blog.