An ecosystem map is a visual representation of the people, organizations, products, and services that a user may interact with during a particular experience.
Ecosystem maps usually have a hub-and-spoke design — where people and things are connected to a central user (the hub) through lines of different lengths — or a ripple-like design, made up of concentric circles. Either format can be used, and both demonstrate the metaphorical distance between a person or thing and the user.
People who have more influence or interact with the user for longer periods of time are closer to the nucleus, while people who interact with the user only indirectly or briefly lie further away in the structure. Ecosystem maps are not linear or chronological, although you can use the clockwise format to add a time element if you want.
Ecosystem maps are useful at the beginning of a discovery, when there are many unknowns.
For example, maybe you’re working with a new client or on a new project and you know nothing about the domain. This map can be constructed with stakeholders and subject-matter experts within a discovery kick-off workshop. It can highlight major actors that need to be researched and reveal how complex the problem space is.
To create an ecosystem map, there are 3 simple steps:
- What is the problem space you want to map? This will be the title and scope of your map. In the example above, the problem space is the home-buying experience.
- Who is the user? Place the user at the center of the diagram. In the example above, the user is the homebuyer.
- Who are the people or things the user could interact with in the problem space? Plot out all the entities (people, groups, organizations, etc.) that the user may interact with. Discuss the importance of each of these actors to determine where they should be placed in the map with respect to the user. Discuss the interactions they have with the user and write these next to each actor in the map.
Discovery Mapping Methods
Mapping can help UX practitioners synthesize insight into one place and visualize the problem space. This video covers 3 maps that are often utilized during the discovery phase of a UX design project: ecosystem maps, experience maps, and process maps.