What’s a Critical User Journey?

When I first heard about Critical User Journeys (CUJ) I found myself asking: aren’t all user journeys critical? But in a way, the CUJ is like a minimum viable product marker for users: what are the journeys they most need?

Personally, one of my favorite things about working in UX is watching old ideas come around in different ways. Critical user journeys are the latest of these.

What’s a Critical User Journey?

A Critical User Journey is a user journey that is absolutely necessary. Often UX designers focus on power users or new users, to make sure that all functionality is accounted for. Thinking about the critical user journey instead brings the focus to the bare bones needs.

What’s interesting to me about CUJs is that they seem to come from a business perspective. Business Analysts ask UX teams and Eng teams to focus in on these “critical” user journeys, and may even define them. But designing them is another matter – particularly if the UX team doesn’t know much about the audience! So how do you dive deeply into a CUJ?

It turns out that “deep diving” into a CUJ is really nothing more complicated than user research.

How did we forget user research?

As I said, what goes around comes around. So if CUJ is the new MVP, a deep dive is the new user research – which makes sense. Critical user journeys need to be built, but all the journey mapping in the world won’t help if you don’t do the research.

It’s a good sign of how automatic UX research has become, that it can get lumped into a large task like “create CUJs”. What struck me is how UX teams now need to make sure that doesn’t turn into neglecting the time required for UXR.

What goes around comes around

Whether MVP or CUJ, deep dives or research, it’s clear that user experience thinking is a key element of any project. It’s fundamental – even as the terminology changes, the techniques remain.

So how do you build critical user journeys? Just learn about the target audience, consider what makes the minimum valuable product, and keep focusing on user needs.

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