Empathy Mapping for Design Thinking

Empathy has always been an indispensable aspect of design. Where empathy is not applied to understand what the user wants, design usually fails to perform a useful, meaningful function. In a field built on a foundation of technical processes, empathy is a huge pillar for UX designers. It requires them to put themselves in the user's shoes and get their perspective on what satisfies their needs and wants the most. Ultimately, this helps designers create a great user experience.

An empathy map, then, is a visual representation of what users say, think, do, and feel. It includes what they hear and see, and what pains and gains they experience in relation to a product. An empathy map pragmatically answers questions about a user's attitudes. Using field research and interviews with (potential) users, UX designers and their teams use empathy maps to identify with those users and their needs from a particular product/experience.

To put it simply, empathy maps will help your team build empathy with the end user. Why does this matter? Because when the team shares a deeper understanding of the user, they can reduce the biases in their design and the weaknesses in their research. They may also be able to pinpoint what the users themselves didn't know they needed, and then proceed to design a product that delivers it.

What does an empathy map look like?

An empathy map is visualized in quadrants or sections. Each quadrant reveals unique aspects of the user persona that indicate how the users think and feel, what they see, hear, say, and do. UX designers usually create these on whiteboards and use post-its in each section indicating the various facets of the customer process. Here's what an empathy map looks like:

What an empathy map looks like

  1. Say and Do: This quadrant covers what customers say about products/technology that they currently use or want to use. This information is usually obtained from interviews with users. In this scenario, before they rely on an app, they may find other ways to solve their problems.
  2. Think and Feel: What do they think about the product? What do they feel about it? They may or may not explicitly voice these thoughts in their interviews; part of what customers think relies on interpretation.
  3. See: The environment users live in and the things they are exposed to in the market significantly influence their needs and wants.
  4. Hear: Where do users like to obtain their information, and from whom? Who influences them the most?
  5. Pain and Gain: These areas overlap with the aforementioned quadrants. Pain points summarize the users' fears and obstacles. Gains indicate what the users expect and what would be beneficial to them.

Some tips on creating a meaningful empathy map

Once the areas have been identified, use these tips to brainstorm and make your empathy mapping session productive:

  1. Give the user a name. Don't refer to them just as "the user." Create a user persona and a different map for each persona. Always place users in context, define where they are and what they are trying to achieve. Who is in their environment? Are they in a rush or are they relaxed?
  2. Identify your goal for creating the empathy map. How are you hoping to improve the user experience through empathy mapping? Make this goal central to your empathy mapping process, so that the team knows what they are working towards.
  3. Use information relevant to the product you are trying to develop. Not every emotion, thought, or action needs to be captured or forced into context to create an empathy map.
  4. Always create empathy maps in a team. No UX designer works in isolation, and it is important that the entire team be on the same page regarding the user persona. While empathy mapping is performed based on user interviews and actions, their thoughts and feelings require a certain amount of interpretation. By involving the design team, you can get a variety of inputs. Through the process, they can share their interpretation of what consumers are looking for, while also gaining the perspective they will need to design the end product.
  5. Place the empathy map everywhere the design team will look. Use Paul Boag's inventive idea to turn an empathy map into a poster around the design team so that they always remember what they are working towards.
  6. Focus on the summary of the map instead of individual sections. When creating empathy maps, it is likely that a lot of sections will overlap. But the goal of empathy mapping is to summarize what is being said/felt/thought/done rather than ensuring it goes into the right section. The data on an empathy map is a culmination of this information, and its accuracy does not lie in any one piece of information in any one category but on the interpretation of all the data that comes through from the mapping session.

Related read: Emotionally Intelligent Design: Why You Need It in Your Mobile App

Empathy mapping is best performed at the beginning of a new project, where each persona contributes to the development of the final product - a product that aims to fulfill the requirements of as many users as it can. Use an empathy map to understand how best to let your users know that you are listening, and that you care about their specific needs. It'll show in the final product you create for them!

This is a guest post by Omkar Mahadik. Omkar is a seasoned creative professional who specializes in Graphic and Experience Design. With simple and efficient techniques, he brings a whole new dynamic to the design team at https://www.chittlesoft.com/. In his parallel life, he is a natural performer and athlete.