Empathy Maps: What and Why?

Introduction

“Empathy is our ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, to see what they see, feel what they feel, and experience things as they do.” (Dam, Rikke Friis, and Teo Yu Siang)

No one can experience things the way someone else does, but we can try to get as close as possible, and to do this, we put aside our preconceived ideas and choosing to understand the ideas, thoughts, and needs of others instead.

As a user experience designer, it is critical to understand your user and prioritize their needs to create a successful product. This is why there is such a thing as “design empathy.” Design empathy is an approach that draws upon people’s real-world experiences to address modern challenges. Empathy is the key. After you can empathically discover your users’ needs, you can meet those needs through design.

What Is an Empathy Map?

Sarah Gibbons says, “An empathy map is a collaborative visualization used to articulate what we know about a particular type of user. It externalizes knowledge about users to create a shared understanding of user needs, and aid in decision making.”

A traditional empathy map has four quadrants; Says, Thinks, Does, and Feels, with the user in the middle. Empathy maps provide a glimpse into who the user is as a whole.

Empathy Map

The Says quadrant is about what the users say out loud during the interview or testing sessions. This section contains direct quotes.

The Think quadrant describes what the user is thinking throughout the experience. What occupies the user’s thoughts? What matters to the user? Pay attention to what the user is thinking but may not be comfortable enough to say.

The Do quadrant provides details about the actions the user takes. What does the user physically do? How do they approach it?

The Feel quadrant contains information about the user’s emotional state. What does the user worry about? What does the user get excited about? How does the user feel about the experience?

There is no clear-cut way to complete/fill in an empathy map. There is also a chance inconsistency can arise during this process. It is up to the UX designer to investigate these inconsistencies. The quadrants help understand the user, and not a single quadrant can be left empty; if there is one empty more research needs to be done.

Why are Empathy Maps Important?

Empathy maps are most useful at the beginning of the design process. When it comes to service design, designers often shoot in the dark because users are constantly changing. We’ve never existed in a world where a pandemic existed, but now it does, and we need to adapt to that. Consumers are thinking and acting differently now than they did two years ago. The user data needs to be continuously updated; otherwise, it is outdated. Empathy mapping digs deep into the user’s mind; it will help identify their evolved wants and needs and showcase the critical positive and negative areas for specific products.

(Empathy map example)

Empathy Map of User trying to purchase a TV

Knowing your customers and empathizing with them empowers you to uncover new ideas, new ways to solve their problems, and fulfill their needs.

Resources:

Brown, Jennifer Leigh. “Empathy Mapping: A Guide to Getting Inside a User’s Head: UX Booth.” Empathy Mapping: A Guide to Getting Inside a User’s Head | UX Booth, http://www.uxbooth.com/articles/empathy-mapping-a-guide-to-getting-inside-a-users-head/.

Dam, Rikke Friis, and Teo Yu Siang. “Design Thinking: Getting Started with Empathy.” The Interaction Design Foundation, http://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/design-thinking-getting-started-with-empathy.

Gibbons, Sarah. “Empathy Mapping: The First Step in Design Thinking.” Nielsen Norman Group, http://www.nngroup.com/articles/empathy-mapping/.

Stabler, Katie. “What Is Empathy Mapping and Why Is It so Important?” MyCustomer, 8 July 2020, http://www.mycustomer.com/customer-experience/engagement/what-is-empathy-mapping-and-why-is-it-so-important.


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