Empathy maps are a tool used to gain insights into customers’ feelings, needs, and behaviors. They provide an effective way to build an accurate picture of the customer experience and glean valuable insights that can be used to uncover unmet customer needs, ideate innovative solutions, build stakeholder alignment, and create more user-centered products and services.
What is an “empathy map”?
An empathy map is a tool that helps you to better understand the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of another person. It’s created during the empathy mapping process, which It involves creating a visual “map” that outlines what your users, customers, or audience are thinking, feeling, and experiencing as they engage with your product or service.
Here’s an example that illustrates what an empathy map looks like
Where did the term come from?
The concept of empathy mapping is often attributed to Dave Gray, a design thinker and author who has written extensively about the use of visual thinking in business and design. In his book "Gamestorming," Gray describes empathy maps as a tool for helping teams to better understand the needs and motivations of their customers or users.
The term "empathy maps" likely comes from the fact that these tools are designed to help teams better understand and empathise with their customers.
Why is empathy important?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, and empathy maps are a way for teams to visualize and better understand the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of their customers.
The Benefits of Empathy Mapping
Empathy maps are important because they help teams better understand and relate to their customers. By visualising the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of a particular customer segment, teams can gain a deeper understanding of their customers' needs, motivations, and pain points.
At a high level, there are three key benefits
- Improved understanding of customers: Empathy maps help teams gain a deeper understanding of their customers' needs, motivations, and pain points. This can inform the design and development of new products, services, or experiences that better meet the needs of the customer. Empathy maps can help teams adopt a more customer-centric approach by ensuring that all customer-facing activities are aligned with the needs and expectations of the target customers.
- Identifying unmet needs: Empathy maps can help teams identify unmet needs and pain points of their customers, which can inform the development of new products, services, or experiences.
- Customer-centric approach: Empathy maps can help teams adopt a more customer-centric approach by ensuring that all customer-facing activities are aligned with the needs and expectations of the target customers.
- Put a narrative to your data: by organizing and visualizing the information they have gathered about a particular user or group of users, designers can see the bigger picture and understand how all of the different pieces of data they have collected fit together. This can help them to identify patterns and trends, and to see how different factors might be influencing the user's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Narratives can be an effective way to communicate information because they help to make complex ideas more relatable and easier to understand. By using an empathy map to create a narrative, designers can more easily explain the user's perspective to others on the team, such as developers, researchers, or marketers. This can help to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals and has a shared understanding of the user's needs and wants.
- Build alignment with stakeholders: Empathy maps can also be a useful tool for improving communication and collaboration within teams and across departments. By sharing the empathy map with different stakeholders, teams can ensure that everyone has a common understanding of the target customer segment and its needs. This can help teams work together more effectively and ensure that all customer-facing activities are aligned with the needs and expectations of the target customers.
The drawbacks of Empathy Mapping
There are a few potential drawbacks to empathy mapping:
- Time and resources: Creating an empathy map can be a time-consuming process, especially if it involves gathering data from multiple sources and conducting interviews or focus groups. It also requires a dedicated team and the allocation of resources to facilitate the process.
- Limited perspective: An empathy map is only as good as the data that goes into it, and it is possible that the team may not have access to all of the information needed to fully understand the customer segment. This can lead to a limited perspective and potentially incomplete or biased insights.
- Risk of assumptions: It's important to be mindful that the empathy map is based on assumptions about the customer's thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. These assumptions may not always be accurate, and it's important to validate them through further research and testing. You have to remember that the map may present an "ideal customer" - which might not be the most accurate reflection
- Dependence on data: An empathy map relies on data to populate the different quadrants, and this data may not always be available or accurate. It's important to carefully consider the sources and reliability of the data used to create the empathy map.
Empathy maps vs user personas
Empathy maps and user personas are two different tools that can be used to understand and represent the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of users or customers. Here are some key differences between the two:
- Purpose: Empathy maps are designed to help teams understand the perspective of a user or customer, while user personas are designed to represent different types of users in a more relatable and easy-to-remember way.
- Content: Empathy maps typically include a wide range of information about a user or customer, including their goals, motivations, values, pain points, and more. User personas are typically more focused, and include only the most important and relevant information about a user.
- Format: Empathy maps are typically presented as a visual diagram or chart, while user personas are often presented as a written or visual profile of a fictional character.
- Use: Empathy maps are often used as a starting point for understanding users, and can help teams to identify areas for improvement or opportunities for innovation. User personas are typically used throughout the design process to help teams keep the needs and goals of different types of users in mind.
When do you use empathy maps?
Empathy maps can be used at any stage of the customer journey, from the early stages of ideation and strategy development to the design and development of new products, services, or experiences. They can also be used to inform ongoing improvements to existing products, services, or experiences.
Here are some specific situations where empathy maps can be particularly useful:
- Product development: Empathy maps can help teams understand the needs and expectations of their customers and inform the design and development of new products that meet these needs.
- Service design: Empathy maps can be used to identify pain points and unmet needs in the customer experience and inform the design of new services or improvements to existing ones.
- Marketing and communication: Empathy maps can help teams develop customer-centric marketing and communication strategies that are aligned with the needs and expectations of their target audience.
- Customer research: Empathy maps can be used as a tool for gathering and organizing customer data during customer research projects.
When can you use empathy mapping in the UX design process?
Although it is often used at the beginning to help teams understand the needs and perspectives of their users.
Here are a few ways that empathy mapping can fit into the UX design process:
- Research: Empathy mapping can be used to help teams gather and organize information about their users. This might include things like their goals, motivations, values, pain points, and more.
- Ideation: Once teams have a better understanding of their users, they can use empathy maps to identify areas for improvement or opportunities for innovation. This might involve brainstorming new ideas or designing prototypes based on the insights gained from empathy maps.
- Testing: Empathy maps can also be used to guide user testing and research. Teams can use empathy maps to identify the most important areas to test, and to create test scripts or scenarios that are based on the needs and goals of their users.
- Implementation: As teams begin to implement their designs, empathy maps can help them to ensure that they are meeting the needs and expectations of their users. They can use empathy maps to assess the effectiveness of their designs and to make any necessary adjustments.
Empathy maps - formats and variations
The traditional format - popularised by Dave Gray - for an Empathy map template consists of four quadrants, each of which represents a different aspect of the user's experience:
- "Thinks": This quadrant represents what the user is thinking and feeling. It might include information about their goals, motivations, values, and beliefs.
- "Says": This quadrant represents what the user says and does. It might include information about their actions, behaviors, and explicit statements.
- "Does": This quadrant represents what the user actually does. It might include information about their actions, behaviors, and decisions.
- "Feels": This quadrant represents the emotions and feelings of the user. It might include information about their emotional states and how they react to different situations.
To create an empathy map using this , teams typically start by gathering as much information as possible about the user, including their goals, motivations, values, pain points, and more. They can then use this information to populate each of the four quadrants of the empathy map.
Other formats for empathy maps
A variation on the traditional format was created by Paul Boag, a well-known web design expert and author. This method involves creating an empathy map that consists of four quadrants, each of which represents a different aspect of the user's experience:
- "Said": This quadrant represents what the user says and does, and includes information about their actions, behaviors, and explicit statements.
- "Thought": This quadrant represents what the user thinks and feels, and includes information about their emotions, attitudes, and beliefs.
- "Did": This quadrant represents what the user actually does, and includes information about their actions, behaviors, and decisions.
- "Pain points/Gains": This quadrant represents the challenges and problems faced by the user, as well as the benefits and rewards they hope to gain from using a product or service.
To create an empathy map using the Paul Boag format, teams typically start by gathering as much information as possible about the user, including their goals, motivations, values, pain points, and more. They can then use this information to populate each of the four quadrants of the empathy map.
Different formats compared
There are several variations on empathy maps. But they all share several things in common.
- They use a quadrant
- The focus on the user’s needs, goals, thoughts, and actions
- They are created in a collaborative process
- They’re used to inform decisions - within teams and across organisations
How to create a customer empathy map - step by step
To create an empathy map, follow these steps:
- Define your customer: Begin by defining the customer segment that the empathy map will focus on. This could be a specific demographic, user group, or market segment. this is the perfect time to pull in user interviews and from your research team
- Gather data and insights: Next, gather data about the target customer segment. This could include demographic information, behaviors, goals, motivations, and pain points. This data can be gathered through a variety of methods, such as interviews, focus groups, surveys, and online research.
- Brainstorm: working your way through each quadrant, ask the team to brainstorm based on the following prompts. Capture the ideas on stickies
- Think: What does the customer think and feel?
- Feel: What does the customer think and feel?
- See: What does the customer see?
- Say/Do: What does the customer say and do?
- Bonus: if using the paul boag format, ask
- Pains: What difficulties does the customer face?
- Gains: What benefits do customers receive?
Review and refine: Review the empathy map with the team and make any necessary revisions. It may also be helpful to validate the insights gained from the empathy map through additional research and testing. Again, this is another opportunity to work with your researchers, reflect on the user interviews, and see if there are deeper insights you can glean
- Use dot voting to surface the top three ideas under each quadrant
- Rephrase them so the meaning is clear at a glance
Use the empathy map: Use the empathy map to inform the design and development of new products, services, or experiences, or to identify opportunities for improving existing ones. Share the empathy map with other teams and departments to ensure that everyone has a common understanding of the target customer segment and its needs.
Best practises when empathy mapping
Before the session
- Define your primary purpose for empathy mapping
- Conduct research
- Don’t do it alone
- Make sure you will have enough time for the session
- Invite an experienced moderator to the session
During the session
- Always do a one-to-one mapping
- Create context
- Include the core traits of the persona.
- Encourage team members to share their thoughts
- Summarise the results
After the session
- Always do a one-to-one mapping
- Create context
- Add the basic characteristics of the persona
- Urge team members to express their ideas.
- Summarise the results
What to do with finished empathy maps
There are several things that teams can do with finished empathy maps:
- Identify pain points: Use the insights gained from the empathy map to identify pain points and unmet needs of the target customer segment.
- Generate ideas for new products, services, or experiences that address these needs.
- Use them as a north star: Use the empathy map as a reference during the design and development process to ensure that the team is meeting the needs of the customer.
- Share with stakeholders: share the empathy map with other teams and departments to help them better understand and relate to the target customer segment.
- Guide your decision making: Use the empathy map to inform customer-centric marketing and communication strategies.
- Benchmark your insights: Regularly review and update the empathy map as new insights are gained and customer needs evolve.
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