Ecosystem Maps

Your constantly-updated definition of Ecosystem Maps and collection of topical content and literature

What are Ecosystem Maps?

Ecosystem maps are tools that designers create to understand the relationships and dependencies between the various actors and parts that contribute to creating customer experiences. An ecosystem is these actors, parts and dynamics. The maps reveal areas to optimize in services to deliver the best customer experiences.

“Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem.”

— Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia

See how to get the clearest view of everything that goes into—and on in—services via ecosystem maps: 

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Ecosystems are Like Theaters, Custom-made for Customers

In service design, it’s critical to understand how the various actors and parts come together to build the “theater” where a service plays out, using all the items (“props”) required, and help make the service perform best for customers. Structurally, an ecosystem consists of:

  • The actors who collectively create the customer experience – including the employees and contractors, on the frontstage and backstage.

  • The practices they perform – the services or value they deliver to customers.

  • The information they require, use or share to contribute their parts of the service.

  • The people or systems these actors interact with to play their roles.

  • The services available to them – i.e., to ancillary (supporting) organizations such as carriers.

  • The devices they use – e.g., smartphones.

  • The channels they communicate through – e.g., email.

Ecosystem maps show your service as a system and how that entire system is connected. They’re like personas in terms of their value and how they represent your service as a “living” entity. When you map out how all the actors, ancillaries, information and the other components work together currently, you can spot areas to improve. There could be disconnects that keep information from flowing properly between (e.g.) the store that should have processed orders and the app that wrongly told customers these were ready for pickup.

For example, Amazon’s ecosystem (from a delivery perspective, depicted below) includes:

  • Delivery services and vehicles.

  • A database.

  • Email notification.

  • Logistics happening behind the scenes.

The actors, devices, infrastructure and other elements interplay to support the best customer experiences. It’s vital to understand the ecosystem as more than the sum of its parts; the dynamics and connections between the parts are crucial to the service’s—and business’s—health. From your own ecosystem maps, you’ll likely find breakpoints: anywhere where the “left hand” doesn’t know what the “right hand” is doing, and the “magic” fails to delight customers.

© Frank Spillers and Experience Dynamics, CC BY-SA 3.0

How to Create Ecosystem Maps

Map out everything the service needs to work:

  1. List all roles/actors that help make it functional – E.g., employees, suppliers and contractors. 

  2. For each role, consider what they do, how they do it and what they need to do it. Include these sorts of things: 

    • Practices they perform (services/value they deliver) 

    • Information they need, use/need to use, or share 

    • People/systems they interact with 

    • Services available to them 

    • Devices they use 

    • Channels through which they communicate

  3. Place your service in the middle and the most important actors/roles close by. Draw as many circles as required; add each role or actor to the image, moving outwards for supporting actors/roles. If your system is complex, try grouping the roles/actors along the circle according to what role they play in relation to your service. 

  4. Consider how each actor depends on the other actors and draw lines of dependencies between them. This will show how actors must collaborate, and expose any breaks in your ecosystem.

As a group activity (recommended): Since ecosystem maps are often complex, it’s better to create them as a team to ensure you cover all actors/parts, like so: 

  1. Everyone draws a map of the current ecosystem from their point of view. 

  2. Everyone presents their map to the group; together the group notes similarities and differences.

  3. Post the individual maps on a wall and draw connections between them. 

  4. Combine the individual maps into one coherent map; use it to help create a service blueprint.

Tips

  • As with lifecycle maps, well-made ecosystem maps give an accurate overview where you can zoom in on specific areas. So, ensure you understand the details of how the various parts of your service work together and what each one involves. An oversimplification of just one part (e.g., a database) might make you overlook potential opportunities for improvement, or cause potentially costly oversights.

  • Because ecosystem maps should reveal services as functioning real-world entities, they can quickly expose problem areas. However, ecosystems can be highly complex; so, be careful that when you find a problem you don’t isolate it as a symptom to address—instead, look at the big picture cause-and-effects-wise. The smallest inappropriately considered change in one area can cause unforeseen repercussions.

  • Although it’s challenging, you can also make a map of a future/ideal service with a view of what, why, how, who, when and where

Overall, your best ecosystem maps will show you how to make the best of everything you have—and handle anything that may arise—when your service performs live in front of your customers.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Learn More about Ecosystem Maps

Take our Service Design course, featuring an ecosystems map template: https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/service-design-how-to-design-integrated-service-experiences

Read UX Booth’s incisively written article on strategizing around an ecosystems-centered perspective: https://www.uxbooth.com/articles/designing-digital-strategies-part-1-cartography/

Macadamian’s healthcare-oriented piece offers helpful insights into ecosystem mapping: https://www.macadamian.com/learn/creating-ecosystem-maps-prioritize-product-investment/

Literature on Ecosystem Maps

Here’s the entire UX literature on Ecosystem Maps by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Ecosystem Maps

Take a deep dive into Ecosystem Maps with our course Service Design: How to Design Integrated Service Experiences .

Services are everywhere! When you get a new passport, order a pizza or make a reservation on AirBnB, you're engaging with services. How those services are designed is crucial to whether they provide a pleasant experience or an exasperating one. The experience of a service is essential to its success or failure no matter if your goal is to gain and retain customers for your app or to design an efficient waiting system for a doctor’s office.

In a service design process, you use an in-depth understanding of the business and its customers to ensure that all the touchpoints of your service are perfect and, just as importantly, that your organization can deliver a great service experience every time. It’s not just about designing the customer interactions; you also need to design the entire ecosystem surrounding those interactions.

In this course, you’ll learn how to go through a robust service design process and which methods to use at each step along the way. You’ll also learn how to create a service design culture in your organization and set up a service design team. We’ll provide you with lots of case studies to learn from as well as interviews with top designers in the field. For each practical method, you’ll get downloadable templates that guide you on how to use the methods in your own work.

This course contains a series of practical exercises that build on one another to create a complete service design project. The exercises are optional, but you’ll get invaluable hands-on experience with the methods you encounter in this course if you complete them, because they will teach you to take your first steps as a service designer. What’s equally important is that you can use your work as a case study for your portfolio to showcase your abilities to future employers! A portfolio is essential if you want to step into or move ahead in a career in service design.

Your primary instructor in the course is Frank Spillers. Frank is CXO of award-winning design agency Experience Dynamics and a service design expert who has consulted with companies all over the world. Much of the written learning material also comes from John Zimmerman and Jodi Forlizzi, both Professors in Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University and highly influential in establishing design research as we know it today.

You’ll earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you complete the course. You can highlight it on your resume, CV, LinkedIn profile or on your website.

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