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Future student online experiences

Future student online experiences

Sharing the work of the Prospective Student Web Content Team

Experience mapping insights – sharing what we learned during design sprint research

Last week our Design Sprint Facilitator Nicola Dobiecka ran a session on experience mapping to share what we’ve learned about the prospective student decision making process. Session recording and access to the map are available to Edinburgh staff.

Why we’ve been mapping student experiences

We’ve been running design sprints through the summer, which Nicola has been facilitating.

A really important element of these sprints was the rapid user research that was done as part of the lead-in to each round of workshops and design. Our User Experience Specialist Gayle Whittaker produced write-ups of the key findings from each round of research, with the support of Nicola and other members of the team.

Read blog posts summarising design sprint research

This insight gradually came together into an evolving map, which Nicola was able to use each sprint as we learned more.

While this user research insight and mapping was fundamental to the design sprints, the information is also interesting and relevant for anyone involved in student recruitment and marketing at the University.

The value of our prospective student experience mapping activity goes way beyond the design sprints it was done for.

A little about maps

Nicola started the session with a bit of a briefing about user experience and user jouney maps, as the audience was made up of student recruitment and marketing professionals who had a range of exposure to maps and to user research.

A few key points she highlighted in her slides:

…the process of creating a map forces conversation and an aligned mental model for the whole team. Fragmented understanding is a widespread problem in organizations because success metrics are siloed; it is no one’s responsibility to look at the entire experience from the user’s standpoint. This shared vision is a critical goal of journey mapping, because, without it, agreement on how to improve customer experience would never take place.

From Journey Mapping 101 by Sarah Gibbons, Nielsen Norman Group

Nicola emphasised that maps serve two key purposes; understanding and communication.

  • Understanding of how something works.
  • Consolidated understanding from multiple sources of information.
  • Providing a unified view for a multi-disciplinary team to create a shared understanding.
  • Communicating these things in a concise format.

Nicola explained there is no one right way to create a map. Maps are created as a tool for a specific purpose.

She explained the difference between:

  • A user journey map: exploring the experience of a single user making their way through a process or scenario; and
  • An experience map: a composite map created from a synthesis of multiple users’ experiences to explore group of similar (not identical) users

A map is created through interviews, observations, examining data etc which is then curated and synthesised by a researcher or researchers to tell the story visually.

So the mapping process is just as valuable to the team undertaking the exercise as the end result.

Benefits to our design sprints

In the design sprint workshops we wanted to start with a shared point of view.

We were working towards generating ideas to test for a future state for the degree finder. To facilitate this it helped to begin with everyone sharing the same point of view – that of the user.

So by interviewing staff from central service and school-based teams, and combining this with other data and insight we had, we were able to present our map as a common baseline for our rapid collaboration through the sprint process.

We found the map to be a vital touchpoint through everything we’ve done, and it will continue to be valuable as we continue to learn about and develop future student experiences.

Our prospective student experience map

Here’s a screenshot to get a flavour of what went into our map.

If you’re a member of staff you can log into the Communications and Marketing wiki to get a link to the full map in Miro, and also access the presentation in which Nicola talks through everything.

Prospective student experience map for undergraduates and postgraduates at Edinburgh University

We created this map as a way to consolodate the user research insight we were gathering to inform our design sprints. Edinburgh staff can interact with it in the online whiteboard tool, Miro.


Access the map and video [University of Edinburgh staff login needed]


Thinking about scenarios

Interestingly, during the session, one attendee asked if we were planning to develop personas to accompany the map.

While we have no plans to develop personas at the moment (as they’re not appropriate given the nature of the research we did, or particularly useful for the team working on the future degree finder), we have (sort of) gone a little way down this route with some additional mapping we did to look at specific high-level scenarios.

These distilled maps draw out differences between undergraduate and postgraduate decision making processes, and also distinguish between what Nicola has categorised as ‘generalist’ and ‘specialist’ applicants.

Experience map illustrating priorities for a prospective undergraduate

An example of the scenario-based maps we created from the master experience map. This simplified version considers the typical priorities of a ‘generalist’ prospective undergraduate.


Again, you can access this map from the same Miro board via the Communications and Marketing wiki. You’ll also hear the question raised and discussed during the video.

Access the map and video [University of Edinburgh staff login needed]

Let us know what you think

If you’ve got any questions about this work, or want advice on how to utilise it in your own work, get in touch.

Prospective Student Web Content Team contact details

If you attended the session, we’d love to hear what you thought via comments on this blog.

Learn more about our degree finder design sprints 

We’ve been running design sprints since April and writing about our work.  

More blog posts about degree finder design sprints 

Learn more about user experience research and design techniques

LinkedIn Learning has some great resources freely available to University staff. Back in my previous role as User Experience Service Manager I curated a playlist of videos on UX techniques including experience mapping.

UX techniques playlist on LinkedIn Learning (via Website and Communications blog)


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