Failure is Not Final: Failure Mapping in UX Design

by Bill Carr | Updated Nov 4, 2021

During the last couple of years, we’ve seen a huge increase in UX practices (UX – User eXperience), user journeys, visual style guides and interactive design patterns — these all help to improve a customer’s online experience and, ultimately, help to improve engagement.

Many aspects of UX may seem like common sense (with hindsight), but, during the design process, UX designers should be working with a set of buyer personas that are most likely to be their primary audience. This will drive many design decisions.

Makes sense, right?

However, getting the balance right for a diverse range of customers is not a simple task, because we want the bulk of our audience to be presented with the ideal interface design and functionality specifically for them.

The big problem?

It isn’t just your primary target buyer persona who uses your product or service!

So, how do you design an interface that appeals to everyone? Is this even possible? Or in trying to appeal to everyone, do you compromise the experience for your primary audience?

That’s where Failure Mapping comes in…

What is Failure Mapping?

Failure Mapping is a way of ensuring that you are armed with enough information to make an informed decisions about optimizing user experience and increasing conversions. When applied correctly, Failure Mapping will deliver a great return on investment. Unfortunately, Failure Mapping is often over looked.

Let’s dig a little deeper…

Failure mapping, in relation to web design, is a system that recognizes patterns of events or conditions that have a direct relationship with subsequent failures.

E.g. not including a clear call to action from a ‘basket’ page to the ‘checkout’ pages.

The technique is to apply historical experience data to create a user journey map showing how failures occur — instead of just focusing on goal conversions. You want to use data to observe the cycle of ongoing failure patterns to prevent any further failures where possible, or to minimize their impact when certain failures cannot be avoided. And once you’ve identified an ongoing failure in a particular set of user journeys, you can look at ways to turn that failure into a goal.

In running through a process like this, you’ll find that many of the solutions are about the elimination of features and calls-to-action. Often, designs are compromised by adding more features or calls-to-action for every possibility. Adding more “design” usually adds to user confusion. And if you’ve ever read or watched Barry Schwartz’s ‘The Paradox of Choice’ TED Talk, you’ll understand that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers and increase their experience and satisfaction.

You can gather an idea of why a failure occurs by using a variety of methods, products, or services (such as Google Analytics), and start to understand possible reasons for the failure.

But don’t be scared — Failure Mapping doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process or require large amounts of data to recognize failure patterns. A simple way to get started is to backwards engineer one of your user journeys until you identify a persistent failure. Once identified, look for ways to reduce confusion or distractions, improving the User Interface (UI), keeping the user/customer engaged on their journey. Run split test to prove your hypothesis further, until a solution presents itself. You can also use this newfound knowledge to remarket to visitors more accurately, and get them back into your user journey.

Facebook is a great example of good UI & UX — because Facebook is often the first introduction to the Internet for developing countries, they have to make sure that their UI/UX is very intuitive. Otherwise, they run the risk that adoption will be low and failures high.

They haven’t just designed their app to work easily with their target audience, they also design their interfaces to accommodate people who wouldn’t typically use Facebook. This isn’t achieved by luck or by simply hiring the amazing UX designers. Instead, Facebook tests hundreds of times over and over with different user groups in completely different demographics. Identifying what’s wrong is often the best way to finding out what’s right.

Why Failure Mapping is important for Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

I see Failure Mapping becoming an integral part of a CRO team’s tools in the future.

You can expect to hear more about Failure Mapping in the future as businesses recognize the importance of delivering a web experience that performs to its highest potential.

CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) teams are already proving their worth as executives are starting to realize the fact that increasing a site’s conversion rate increases company revenue without having to attract more site visitors. This “buy-in” will allow the CRO team to continue to expand their strategies and techniques. This is good because Failure Mapping requires that CRO teams shift their thinking — instead of looking for ways to improve conversions by testing only for their buyer personas, they will be looking for patterns within their data as to reasons users failed to convert from any demographic.

And you know this is important if companies like Amazon are adopting this approach…

Amazon is doing a lot of innovative work behind the scenes — they’re using customer data to gain an advantage by eliminating as many purchasing barriers as possible. For example, Amazon identified that people from the UK weren’t purchasing books that were shipped from the US due to their lengthy delivery times. They combatted this by analyzing a customer’s browsing history — with this data they can automatically ship that product to a distribution warehouse close to that customer’s location and can even predict when he or she may purchase a given item based on previous purchasing patterns, such as buying on or around their pay dates. Amazon recognizes these kinds of “failures” due to a better understanding of their customers and their habits. The bottom line? They maximize sales potential.

And that’s really what we’re talking about — maximizing potential. But, we can’t rely on what’s worked in the past… the only thing we can rely on is our user’s/customers feedback. The winners of this game will be those that are the first to identify, react, and adapt, and adopt a culture of continuous improvement.

Failure Mapping puts customer issues at the forefront of website optimization and increases our understanding of a customer’s online experiences and improving them – failure, does not have to be the end!