Journeys, Needs, and Trust: A Volkswagen Case Study

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“Implementing a user journey usually takes place within a pre-established hierarchical structure where the journey is carved in, ad hoc, like a highway tunnel through a mountain.”

The goal of the experience design proposed for the Volkswagen website (South Africa) was to create an overarching customer journey that would span the full lifecycle and relationship with the product or service, creating “… a preconceived and persuasive journey across all available media.” [1] The experience design aimed to cover all available channels by creating a grand customer journey to bind all interactions and experiences over time with customers. It became clear that the website was the one touchpoint that could speak directly to customers’ needs at any time over the full duration of the customer lifecycle. Establishing an information architecture and structure for the website that had this journey at its core would mean creating a consistent thread in the customer experience.

Central to this approach are the beliefs that:

  1. Answering customers needs can form a foundation for the creation of the journey
  2. Designing a customer experience around needs creates trust
  3. If customers believe that their needs will be answered through the web, it will increase the use of the website and the channel itself will become top of mind

Volkswagen it is!
The phase 1 launch of the Volkswagen website occurred in September 2005. This first release aimed to put in place a user experience and architecture upon which an integrated media approach could hang; a platform for customers, Volkswagen, and dealerships to grow upon.

The act of visualizing the integrated strategy, the full-fat customer journey, made it clear that the website, alone of all the channels, could affordably speak to customers throughout the full duration of the relationship cycle. Based on this insight it was vital that the website embody the full customer experience.

The customer experience design process
The process begins and ends with the customer—from creating a “landscape” of customer needs that change over time, to measuring success as the usability of (and level of satisfaction with) the experience for customers.

Broadly speaking, the steps in the process ran as follows:

  1. Identify and describe customer needs across the full lifecycle
  2. Identify all current activity across the lifecycle
  3. Identify gaps (where needs aren’t met)
  4. Where needs are addressed assess how successfully are they functioning
  5. Map business needs to the same landscape (and repeat steps 3 and 4)
  6. Between lifecycle stages assess how well transitions are being handled and identify gaps
  7. Create briefs to fill all gaps (for either customer or business needs)
  8. Use all available channels to address needs
  9. Build in the ability to campaign across this “landscape” over time
  10. Measure effectiveness against the movement (and drop off) through the lifecycle

Image 01

Fig. 1. Customers’ needs were identified and mapped to the lifecycle in a linear progression.

The strategy
We used the customer ownership model to form the basis of an “ideal” journey through all lifecycle phases. Matching business and customer needs was key to the experience design because the momentum in the journey relies on business needs and customer needs sitting back-to-back at the end of any journey. For example:

Business need: Acquisition
Customer need: Narrow my choices: help me to find and choose a car that’s rights for my needs and budget (I need more than just a catalog).

The needs analysis involved the strategist and me working through the phases in the lifecycle and mapping largely known customer needs. It was a very rudimentary mapping process and, had we the opportunity, customer interviews certainly would have aided the process.

For each stage in the lifecycle we:

  • Identified overarching business objectives
  • Identified our customer needs
  • Identified business needs
  • Located gaps in current activities and information to answer the above
  • Identified the barriers to answering the needs
  • Found solutions to fill the gaps
  • And pinpointed dependencies for the successful roll out of the solutions

Identifying changing needs over time allowed us to create hooks to pull customers from one lifecycle stage to another, from one experience to another, and from one environment to another. We then constructed the full-fat, cross-media journey across all channels and touchpoints over time, including activities, content, hooks, and data requirements. Then we visualized the journey.

Image 02

Fig. 2. The needs analysis and mapping process.

Some key points about the strategy and strategic approach:

  • The framework allows for delivering on the brand ambition
  • Customer needs are central to the design making it meaningfully customer centric
  • It allows for all stakeholders needs to be tactically addressed through the lifecycle
  • Being media neutral, it allows for true marketing integration across channels
  • It is a platform for ongoing interactions, flexible enough to include tactical initiatives

User journeys
Early in 2005, jh-01 put together the information architecture design for the website, including analysis and content and functionality audit of the current website; development of the conceptual model; and persona creation and user journeys, wireframes, and sitemap.

Implementing a user journey usually takes place within a pre-established hierarchical structure where the journey is carved in, ad hoc, like a highway tunnel through a mountain. It is usually at the page level through newly designed calls to action and with the introduction of individual web pages that user journeys are cobbled together through a hierarchy. But because the notions of the lifecycle and journey were integral to the experience design and strategy in this project, the information architecture could truly apply the practice of user journeys: meaning that the structure itself was that of the “grand” journey from purchase to re-purchase spanning over three years.

Image 03

Fig. 3. An example of User Journey diagram.

Moving through the structure, dropping into the structure, is one and the same as moving through and dropping in and out of the overarching customer experience. On a structural level, the architecture itself, is representative of the changing relationship over time and the broad marketing endeavours of Volkswagen. Not to mention the changing needs and subsequent content and functionality of and for the user.

And all the other good stuff?

The process really began by identifying personas with each stage and sub-stage within the overarching journey. Cutting across these personas were different user types (first-time versus repeat website users, first-time versus repeat car buyers, fleet versus commercial versus passenger buyers, etc.).

As mentioned earlier, we used the Ogilvy One customer ownership model as the basis for the grand journey and for each persona at each stage in the journey we fleshed out:

  1. The primary need for each stage
  2. Need states within
  3. The users mode(s)

The personas then enabled the re-organization of content and identification of new content and functionality required for answering the customer needs across the lifecycle. It resulted in having content “buckets” for each lifecycle stage. The content within these buckets was then organized in a linear way, mapping content and functionality to need states as they changed over time from the start of the lifecycle stage to the end. Content was created to address changing need states within lifecycle phases. We created hooks within the content to move users from state to another.

Image 04

Fig. 4. Content was created to address changing need states within lifecycle phases. We created hooks within the content to move users from state to another.

In the early stages of consideration, for instance, we knew some people were “wallet conscious” and others “under the bonnet” type buyers. We also knew many people sit on the fence between buying a new car or simply going pre-owned, and we also needed to speak to first time buyers. So we created a section called “Help me choose” that sits apart from in the list of navigation options for this section.

For this section we created four content items addressing each need: a budget helper; a specs comparison tool; up-front pros and cons around new versus pre-owned cars, and a guide for first time buyers. All of these content items contained hooks or “next steps” to move people into looking more carefully at the models that were more likely to be right for them. Once this was done, the wireframes concret-ized the rules for navigation and layout and the content and functionality on each and every page to ensure that the detail required for the successful translation of concept into design and build had its blueprint in the wireframes.

The interaction design
After the architecture was signed off, Ogilvy Interactive developed an original system of interaction design concepts and rules based around the thinking of the journeys that moved the wireframes into a more sophisticated web-based experience.

Link types: top level, journey, recursive and detour
Page types: informational, simple direction, immersive destination

Interpretation of journeys into link types to assist with interface design.

Lastly, a sitemap was used to explain the structure of the journeys with a page code system that mapped back to the wireframes, so that the overall system could be understood by programmers and project managers for the build process.

Image 05

Fig. 5. Interpretation of journeys into link types to assist with interface design.

Moving forward
The phase 1-website release puts an architecture in place that will allow a modular approach to the inclusion of future content and functionality on the site. Where we know needs are still not being met or where new needs come to light there is a strategy and “logic” for the inclusion of new elements.

The website, being the one constant in the integrated strategy, can start to support the activities of other channels and can pick up from where others leave off; as a direct response and customer relationship management interface but also to successfully manifest the overarching customer journey across channels. The tip of the iceberg being campaign and marketing integration, the website will also integrate the back-end between customers, Volkswagen, and third-party partners (dealerships, financing, etc.).

Image 06

Fig. 6. Volkswagen South Africa.

Rolling out the experience design revealed that the web, unlike any of our other channels, offers a touchpoint for meeting customers (and their needs) at all times across the duration of the relationship. And it can do this affordably.

Customer journeys do work as a user experience model for online interactions with customers over time and as a customer-centric and needs-based approach promise to create a space where trust can exist. This project attempted to extend that thinking and approach into a customer experience design that occurs across multiple channels. In addition, the experience design is intended to offer a meaningful approach to integrating media and marketing initiatives.

Given the low bandwidth and often compromised user experience of the internet in South Africa, increasing the use of digital channels requires a robust customer-centric approach that speaks directly to people’s needs to create trust in a particular website, as much in an entire channel. For developing contexts like South Africa, this approach provides a strong argument for investing in the correct use of the online channel and to strategically drive traffic online.

For more information

[1] This case study covers the re-launch of the Volkswagen (SA) website in September 2005 as the online arm of a customer experience design conceived by jh-01 and rolled out with Ogilvy One and Ogilvy Interactive in Cape Town. This experience was created with Ogilvy One in Cape Town late in 2004.

[2] Volkswagon, South Africa

An introduction to user journeys

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“…Answering customer needs is the end point of our journeys through the structure and the starting point of our thinking about the journey itself. ”

Designing a website’s structure around customer needs creates trust—trust in the web as a valuable space to interact with a brand, product, or service. Such a website provides your customers with a valuable first point of contact.

User journeys are a method for conceptualising and structuring a website’s content and functionality. These journeys allow us to shift away from thinking about structure in terms of hierarchies or a technical build.

Pioneering web designer and artist Auriea Harvey (zentropy8) describes web design as “thought patterns, processes, paths.” User journeys tap directly into this model, reflecting the thoughts, considerations, and experiences that people go through in their daily lives, beyond the web.

Creating a user journey places a strong emphasis on personas and also merges the creation of scenarios and user flows. However, unlike user flows, hierarchies, or functional specs (which explain the interaction between a user and a system’s logic and processes), user journeys explore a user’s mental and lived “patterns, processes, and paths” and translate these into web-based experiences.

Primary needs and need states

Answering customer needs is the end point of our journeys through the structure and the starting point of our thinking about the journey itself.

Successful commercial websites satisfy both business and customer needs. Each journey a user takes through a site should fulfil a need. If, at the end of a journey, you have a business need and a customer need sitting back to back, then the site endeavour will succeed.

For example:
Primary user need: I want to take a vacation abroad
Business need: Increasing our flight ticket sales
Marketing/business phase: acquisition


The first step is to identify your customers’ needs. These are broad, top-level needs. Let’s call them primary needs. Primary needs usually fit into classic marketing cycles (acquiring, servicing, retaining customers) and can be identified by using common sense, consulting your client, or conducting research.

Need states are like micro-needs within the primary needs you identify. They are close to the idea of interaction modes: searching, exploring, browsing, etc. And like interaction modes, need states change during the course of a website experience, as users move through the journey during one session or over multiple visits.

Start conceptualising the usual way—with personas. The need states will cut across these personas.

Persona Need State
John: I’ve never flown or booked my own ticket before.

Julie: I am very experienced with this kind of thing.

Pete: I’m used to this process but not this airline.

A: “I have bought my ticket and am looking for hotels, insurance, car hire etc.”

B: “What’s the best way to get there?”

C: “I’m planning my trip and need ideas and ball park costs.”

D: “I know where I want to go and am shopping around for the best deal.”

Even at this early design stage, ideas start to emerge for the kind of content and functionality to meet these customer needs. Already we see a website forming that has the user and the user’s life experience at its core.


Answering needs

This is the fun part. Sit down and brainstorm content and functionality that will most effectively answer the customer’s needs. This can be anything from wizards to checklists, games, forums, or peer reviews.

In the case of a redesign, you want to assess how well the current content and functionality is answering and addressing the primary needs and need states.

Clients will usually have some existing content that can be evaluated on the grounds of relevance to and impact on the customer needs. Try to get your hands on an existing site map or draw one up by hand, and group that content under the various customer needs you have identified. The gaps will become clear. You can also rate the content in terms of how well it has been executed.


This exercise will reveal all the classic examples of brochure-ware present on the site and information that is actually superfluous to the customer. This can help in culling content.

With powerful and relevant content in place, you have the foundation to build effective journeys for your customers.

Creating a journey

Think about the user’s needs and the associated content in some form of time-based progression. You need a beginning, middle, and end. It is all rather logical; the trick is simply to role-play. Put yourself in the mindset of your user and imagine how the need states shift as you move through the overall process.

Original need states we identified Need states in a time based progression
A: “I have bought my ticket and am looking for hotels, insurance, car hire etc”

B: “What’s the best way to get there?”

C: “I’m planning my trip and need ideas and ball park costs”

D: “I know where I want to go and am shopping around for the best deal”

C: “I’m planning my trip and need ideas and ball park costs”

B: “What’s the best way to get there?”

D: “I know where I want to go and am shopping around for the best deal”

A: “I have bought my ticket and am looking for hotels, insurance, car hire etc”

When presenting this to your client or team members you want to show the order of the content. Show how the content becomes a kind of landscape the user traverses when moving towards the end goal, matching the business and customer needs.


A new kind of magic should start to happen now. In grappling with the complexity of options in creating a journey or story, you’ll realise that the visual design, layout, and navigation provide the solution to take your user experience to the next level.

The trick is balancing freedom of movement through navigation while presenting an “ideal” path that hints at the overall journey.

The journey in the interface

In the interface you need to create a sense of where the user sits in the journey: what came before and what is coming next.

You can almost think of it as a pre-emptive breadcrumb trail. Or perhaps you can think of it in the terms the architect Rem Koolhaas uses: “design [is about] entrances and exits.” This is an interesting view since websites are often passive, self-service environments where the user tends to instigate interactions. In terms of journeys or movement through information, the user chooses when and where they will enter and they drop off when it is appropriate.


When inviting users to enter the journey, you appeal to the broad primary need: “Thinking of travelling?” and, associated with this option, you reveal the landscape of that journey:

Need states in a time based progression Calls to action
C: “I’m planning my trip and need ideas and ball park costs” 1. “Planning your trip? Read our destination reviews”
B: “What’s the best way to get there?” 2. “Configuring your trip? Use the journey planner”
D: “I know where I want to go and am shopping around for the best deal” 3. “Get the best rates — find fares”
A: “I have bought my ticket and am looking for hotels, insurance, car hire etc.” 4. “Complement your trip with these great deals on car hire, hotels and insurance”

The user will self-select where they want to go. This choice inevitably drops them into the journey at the point relevant to them. But since we have mapped our content and functionality along a time- and need-based trajectory, the user is oriented based on the relevance of content and functionality at a point in time.

So at this moment, the stuff “behind” them holds less relevance, the things ahead of them provide a sense of direction, and the content and functionality directly in front of them has maximum relevance and is answering their current need state.

All this adds up to:

  • People easily navigate where they need to go to get the kind of content or functionality they require at that time.
  • People who leave the site can return and pick up where they left off as their need state changes.
  • Because of the beginning, middle, and end structure, the user is continually getting closer to answering their primary needs.
  • You can “hold people by the hand” through the experience.

Having a journey in place also means that we can create dramatic and compelling hooks to pull people from one moment (or stage) to another.

Creating hooks

The structure tells a story so you can create hooks throughout the journey. Because the journey maps needs along a time-based progression, the calls to action (hooks) will have relevance because we’re anticipating the user’s next need.


Here are a few examples of the kinds of hooks that can be used:

  • Use actionable content (content with functional elements) where the response moves the user into the next need state.
  • Create visualizations of the content and functionality that accompany the calls to action, hinting at what comes next.
  • Present all upcoming options. For example, if the user is in moment 2 of 5 then offer the hooks for 3, 4 and 5.
  • Capture user data where a drop-off is expected so that returning users feel that previous visits have been valuable.
  • Highlight the end goal, the primary need—never let the user lose sight of it. Use offers or rewards to keep the user engaged and progressing all the way through the journey.
  • Address barriers throughout the journey. If we know what concerns people, address these items and use them as a reason to stay in the journey.

Measuring and iteration

Since there is logic to the structure, click-through statistics can fairly easily be mapped back to assess the relative success and accuracy of each user’s journey. By analyzing the stats, one can easily identify the pages and links where drop-off is occurring.

Drop-off may be a natural part of the overall user experience but can also help point to problems in the design and structure. Then you can research, make changes, test, and roll out the new design. User journeys are a natural part of any iterative design process.

The big picture

Let’s zoom out from an individual journey to view an entire website as an even larger journey. There are multiple primary needs spread out in a time-based progression. People can drop into the online experience at any point and find answers and solutions to their needs. They may enter or exit this experience whenever it suits them and, at any point, this space, this website, is a reliable point of contact. This is the promise of user journeys: creating trust that allows this medium to take its place as a valuable channel for customers to experience a product, service, and brand.

For More Information:
Auriea Harvey. “Cutting Edge Web Design: The Next Generation,” Daniel Donnelly, ed.,
1998, p. 50

Jason Hobbs works out of Johannesburg under the working title jh-01 ( He shares his time between teaching, writing, practicing user experience design for commercial clients and arts & culture projects. He collaborates closely with the arts collective and consultancy the Trinity Session and likes to talk shop, so email him.