Empathy in Action: Utilizing Empathy Maps for Deeper Understanding

Empathy mapping is a valuable exercise that helps to align teams, remove biases, unearth a deeper understanding of audiences and provides a lens to prioritize efforts in research, planning and experience design. It also serves as a tool to guide teams into a more customer-centric mindset.

Begin by sharing existing research (such as interview transcripts, diary study logs or qualitative survey data) with your team and have them document their findings on sticky notes that align with each of the four quadrants. Clustering these sticky notes facilitates discussion and alignment as a team.

Identifying Needs and Wants

Using an empathy map template is an effective way to get into the mind of your customer. The map consists of four quadrants: Says, Thinks, Feels and Dos. Each quadrant is filled with different aspects of a customer’s experience.

For example, if a user tagged your company on social media saying they were frustrated with a product, note it in the Dos quadrant of the empathy map. Also, if they told you in an interview that they wanted to buy a product, note it in the Wants quadrant.

Once all of the information is written on the map, review it for overlapping observations or insights. If necessary, cluster notes together into bigger themes and discuss what you’ve learned about your customer. Be sure to validate any new hypotheses with a Sponsor User or with real data from research. This will help you understand your customer better, which will lead to a more effective product design.

Creating a Target Audience

When you have a lot of data to process, it can be difficult to translate it into meaningful information that can be utilized. Empathy maps are simple, practical visual tools that can help you do just that.

Start by drawing a large square on a collaborative space, whiteboard, flip chart, or piece of paper. Divide the square into four quadrants that are labeled: Says, Thinks, Does, and Feels. Then add the information you have gathered from your research, observations, and user interviews.

Be sure to include both positive and negative information, so you can gain a comprehensive understanding of the persona. When you are done, it’s a good idea to review the map to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Then use the map to generate new ideas about how your product can meet users’ needs and desires. For example, if the persona said she was frustrated by a complicated calendar app, your team can come up with ways to address that pain point.

Creating a Persona

Using a whiteboard, a poster board, sticky notes or an empathy map template on Miro, divide a large square into four quadrants labeled “says,” “thinks,” “does,” and “feels.” Have team members fill in each of these quadrants with the information they’ve gathered through research or observation.

Then have them go back and review the information they’ve written down. Look for clusters of similar points and synthesize them where possible. This step helps teams get to know their personas better and also helps them uncover potential design opportunities.

If time allows, have each team member choose a persona to focus on and work on their own empathy map. This increases the sense of ownership and makes the maps more meaningful. Depending on the persona, empathy mapping can take anywhere from 10 – 15 minutes to complete. Ideally, the process should be conducted after user research to ensure that designers are taking real customer insights into account when creating their products.

Creating an Empathy Map

The first step when using empathy maps is to collect data about your target audience, using UX research tools like user interviews, usability tests, surveys and focus groups. This information is then mapped to the four quadrants of an empathy map: Thoughts, Feelings, Actions, and Observations.

It’s a great tool for helping teams gain a clearer understanding of the customer profile, and can be used across multiple departments within an agency such as service, planning or digital marketing. The resulting insights can be valuable when creating or improving a product, and can also improve future marketing strategies.

The team systematically moves through each quadrant, adding stickies that represent the customer’s thoughts, feelings, actions and observations. After the map is complete, the team can then cluster together similar stickies and identify themes that emerge. This process helps the team vocalize and align on their findings, as well as identify any gaps in knowledge. Then, the team can begin to fill in those gaps with further research.