September 26, 2023
empathy map

Using an empathy map is a great way to distill user research into an easy-to-understand visual. It’s also a good tool to keep design features grounded in what your users actually want.

Sketch your user in the center of a large square and divide it into four essential quadrants: Says, Does, Thinks, and Feels. Record each observation on a sticky note and place it in its relevant quadrant.

Start with Personas

One of the most well-known UX methods for understanding users is persona mapping. A persona is a fictional character that a company creates to represent a segment of its target audience (TA). They are defined by the pain points your business serves, their goals and sensibilities.

The goal is to understand what types of products will appeal to these users. A great way to do this is by asking questions that generate rich, in-depth qualitative responses. You can use a service like Maze to help you recruit research participants for this step.

Then you need to go through and organize the data from each participant, identifying which personas are most prevalent in your data. Typically, you will have a primary persona that dominates your research and will likely serve as the inspiration for your product design. You may also have other personas that offer valuable insight and could inspire new features for your product. These smaller personas should be grouped together and given a name so you can reference them in the future.

Create a Storyboard

Once you’ve gathered the appropriate qualitative research, such as user interviews or observations, it’s time to begin building your empathy map. This can be a collaborative exercise to help align the team around their understanding of users.

empathy maps are based on real-world information and experience, so they’re best completed with an actual persona in mind. Using a persona as the basis for your empathy mapping ensures that your insights are founded on real-world customer feedback and knowledge.

When creating an empathy map, start by identifying what the persona says, does, thinks and feels. This will help you better understand the external and observable world of your users as well as their internal mindset, emotions, motivations and beliefs. Fill out each quadrant of the empathy map with the insights you’ve gathered from your research. This will give you a clearer picture of your users’ needs and help define your design challenge.

Conduct User Research

To create an empathy map, you will need qualitative research inputs, such as user interviews, field studies, diary studies or listening sessions. It’s best to conduct this research prior to creating the design deliverable, but it can also be done during the deliverable process.

Once the research is collected, participants can begin to brainstorm ideas for each of the four quadrants on an empathy map. They should write these thoughts on sticky notes and then place them on the appropriate quadrants of the empathy map.

The quadrants explore the user’s external world and internal mindset by considering what they see, think and feel, hear, say, and do (including their pains and gains). A key piece of advice is to stay pragmatic and avoid over-specifying the map with ingenious features that will not resonate with users. Instead, focus on finding solutions that meet the user’s needs and goals. This will ensure that your product provides value.

Create an Empathy Map

Empathy maps are collaborative visualization tools that help teams articulate what they know about a specific type of user. They’re often used at the beginning of the design process (after research but before constructing personas or concepting) to synthesize observational data and reveal deeper insights about a user’s needs.

Start by gathering the research you will use to fuel your empathy map — this can include anything from field studies, diary studies, listening sessions, and even user interviews. Organize the research into the four quadrants of your empathy map: Says, Thinks, Does, and Feels.

Use your digital whiteboard tool, such as Miro, to create a new empathy map board and then use virtual sticky notes to fill in each quadrant of the diagram. As you work through the mapping process, be sure to consider the thoughts and feelings that underlie each user’s actions and words. The more you can place yourself in the user’s shoes, the better able you will be to understand their pains and gains.

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