Mind the Gap

By: Chris Livaudais

Call it a customer journey or a guest experience, the way audiences often connect with brands is through interacting with touch points along an path leading from start to finish. These journeys are often mapped and analyzed ad nauseum, with the goal being to identify opportunity areas, or gaps, where we can enhance, reduce pain points, or even shorten the journey. The improvements made could in turn translate into a better shopping experience, a deeper brand connection, or a more desirable service. This approach is well documented on the web and can be illustrated like this:


Alternatively, what if we could create a journey with the gaps built in? A framework that could anticipate disruption. One where certain points are fixed and others are variable. To me, this is a much more interesting prospect.

Let’s start with a simple path where know the beginning and finishing points. These points might correlate to a guest need/desire and a guest interaction/problem resolution, respectively.


Next, we create gaps at specific points along the journey. It’s at these pre-scripted points where we allow participants to complete the story with their own details. You remember Mad-Libs, right? Well, a gap enabled journey is similar in concept; only this time, it's at human scale and real actors are at play.


When a guest or customer enters the journey, they can advance through the framework by filling in the blanks with their own inputs effectively creating continuity in an otherwise incomplete story with their own personal narratives. This isn’t necessarily about providing options for customers. Rather, it’s about providing points where your brand can fulfill guests’ needs in mico-moments of a larger journey.

One simple example might be: Having a wall in a retail space painted by a local artist. The art might reflect aspects of a brand personality, but at the same time, can act as a free space for shoppers to take a perfect selfie and then share on social media.

A more advanced example might be: A mother seeking set up a simple bank account for her children via the bank's app and, for whatever reason, she aborts her updates mid-process. A few days later, she passes by the bank's retail location and stops in to continue the account update. The teller is able to pick up where the mother left off and successfully complete the transaction without the mother having to restart the entire process.

In both scenarios, the guest narrative rewrites the brand prescribed journey to create something new, unique, and appropriate to the individual. The designers of the framework anticipated their guests’ (perhaps unknown) needs and presented opportunities (gaps) for the user to take ownership of the experience and control the desired outcome.


Knowing that each of us react to stimulus differently, gaps should be designed to adapt to input given to them. Subsequent gaps down the line could adapt to (or even better, learn from) earlier inputs and become more deliberate as the journey progresses. This, in concept, could create a deeply personalized and pleasurable experience.


I believe designing with gaps would allow us to plan for, and even anticipate, variables that might otherwise disrupt a delightful experience. Brands that provide a flexible journey foundation for participants instead of a steadfast, everyone 'must pass go' type of journey will find themselves gaining marketshare and the hearts of their customers.

Carefully considered gaps enable the opportunity to engage audiences at moments when it is most appropriate and in a way that is more meaningful—because the story could not have been completed had they not been there to fill the gap.

The best way to craft a perfect customer journey might just be to start putting holes in it.


Chris Livaudais, IDSA is a multi-disciplinary designer and executive director of the Industrial Designers Society of America. IDSA’s International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) is accepting submissions through March 16, 2020. Categories include Design Strategy, Digital Interaction, Service Design, and more. Enter IDEA today.