5 min read

How to Build Better Empathy Maps

At the centre of human-centred design is empathy. Having a deep understanding of the people is critical for building a commercially successful product. While there are different techniques that designers can use to understand their customers better, a key technique that offers a lot of advantages is empathy mapping. 

An empathy map design thinking helps the entire team build empathy with their end users. It helps all the members of a product team think from a user centred perspective and helps them gain understanding of the user’s needs and wants.
Empathy is a core skill that all designers need to be able to identify with users and think from their perspective. Sometimes in a UX team, stakeholders default to their own opinions and feeling and forget about their intended target audience. User empathy map can help team members focus participants on users by putting them in their shoes when interacting with a product or service.

What is an Empathy Map?

An empathy map UX is a simple, easy to understand visual that captures knowledge about a user’s behaviour and attitudes. It is a visualisation tool that helps teams put down what they thing they know about a user. It is a simple workshop activity that can be done with the entire team, including stakeholders, marketing and sales, product development or even the creative team to build empathetic thinking for end users. The exercise of creating an empathy map is a great way for teams to identify what they know about the user and put this information on a chart so that they can gain a more holistic view of the user’s world and their problems. This can help in identifying where an opportunity lies to develop a product that will solve their problems.

Empathy map

Most Empathy maps have 4 quadrants. These are;

Say – What the user says about the product. Ideally, this section contains real quotes from users recorded during interviews or user testing sessions.

Think – What is the user thinking about when interacting with a product? What occupies the user’s thoughts? What matters to the user?

Feel – This section contains information about the user’s emotional state. What worries the user? What does the user get excited about? How does the user feel about the experience?

Do – What actions does the user take? What actions and behaviours did you notice?
An UX empathy map is best used at the very beginning of the development process, right after initial user research is done. This is when an empathy map will have the most impact on product requirements and help product teams develop a meaningful value proposition.

Tips to build better empathy maps

Before the session;

1. Define your primary purpose

Before you start the activity of creating customer empathy maps, you need to clearly define your purpose for creating one.

2. Conduct research

The best empathy maps are drawn from real data. Collect data by conducting user interviews, surveys etc and then ensure that all team members are aware of the research and are familiar with it. Listening to users is a great way to understand your users pain points.

3. Involve a team

Creating a persona empathy map is better done in a team. It is important that every team member thinks about the user while creating the product. Creating empathy maps is a great team exercise that makes team members gather together and synthesise information about users. Invite all core product team members ━ product managers, designers, developers, marketers ━ to the session. Involve your stakeholders as well since it is important to have the product team and stakeholders on the same page.

4. Ensure that you have enough time for the session

Make sure you have enough time to set up the room and to summarise the session. A typical session lasts around 30 to 60 minutes with and additional 15 mins before and after the session.

5. Invite an experienced moderator to the session

An experienced moderator will be able to facilitate the session better by ensuring that the team brainstorms more effectively. An experienced moderator will not ask leading question, will not express their own opinion and ensure that everyone participates in the activity.

During and after the session;

after session

1. Always do a one to one mapping

Always follow the rule of “one persona per map”. If you have multiple personas you want to create empathy maps for, make one empathy map for each persona.

2. Create context

Start by defining who is the subject of the empathy map, or persona and their goals and objectives. Create enough context so that the team can understand and empathize with the user and the situation they are in. Define as much of the context as possible.

3. Add basic characteristics to the persona

To make the user persona feel more real, give them a few basic characteristics like a name, job title and personal details like how they look. This will help team members relate better to the user persona.

4. Encourage team members to talk about their thoughts

During the actual session, encourage team members to talk about their responses so that you can garner more profound insights. This will help you dig deeper into why users think the way they do which can be extremely valuable for the rest of the team.

5. Summarize the results

At the end of the session, review the completed empathy map, and discuss any patterns that emerge. Encourage team members to share any thoughts they might have had during the session. Once you collect all the information, summarize the most important points and share them with your team members. 

Once you conclude the session, keep the empathy map as a reference that your team can refer to in moments of doubt or uncertainty. Keep revising and adjusting them during the development process.

Conclusion

Empathy maps are a great way to get your team think from a customer-centric approach. A good empathy map creates a chain reaction that affects the entire project. Empathic design leads to a deeper understanding of how users affect the product requirements, which affects product strategy, which affects the prototypes and ultimately makes a better final design of the product. Empathy maps are as important as journey mapping in design thinking.

Sidharth Kumar