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Empathy is one of the most important factors in any UX design. However, only a few UX professionals focus on using empathy in terms of understanding user experience despite the many endless conversations about its importance.

From a user perspective, comments like “as a user, I would not normally use that” or “our users are not going to be bothered about it”, are just some of the many points of view from the users’ perspectives that UX professionals do not say.

In short, UX professionals are not users. We do not know what is going inside the heads of our users unless we take a hard look inside them. But how? Try empathy mapping.

In this article, Empathy Map Guide in UX Design, we’ll learn how to empathize and how to better understand our users.     


What is empathy mapping? 

An empathy map is an easy-to-read visual document that shows the knowledge, behavior, and attitude of the users. This is a useful tool for UX teams to better understand user perspectives.

This can also be used as a visual presentation for stakeholders, marketing and sales team, production team, creative team, and for anyone involved in the services and user experiences.

A map empathy session can be a good exercise for these groups and teams when it comes to getting inside the users’ heads.

According to Neilsen Norman Group, an empathy map is often used to articulate what we already know about a particular type of user. It is useful in creating a shared understanding with the users and aids in the decision-making process.

Below is an empathy mapping example, which is divided into four quadrants labeled as Says, Things, Feels, and Does

empathy map by NNG

The sample above shows the user’s perspective about the task or the product given. Usually, there will be a given map for each personality or user type (1:1 mapping).

The empathy session mapping should be conducted at the very beginning of the design process. This can also be used to categorize notes from a user interview.  


Why is an empathy map important?

As previously mentioned, empathy mapping is most useful at the beginning of the UX design process. The reason behind this is because the mapping process synthesizes research observations and reveal deeper insights about the users and their needs.

This can also be used as a guide in constructing the personas or serve as a bridge between personas and concept deliverables.  

In early project stages, an empathy map shows the design team the user’s world and makes them see approaches and knowledge from the user’s point-of-view before creating a content, web design, or app prototype.  

The benefits of an empathy map include:

Identifies who a user or persona is

The empathy-mapping exercise helps refine and categorize your knowledge of the user into one place. This is useful in the following instances:

  • In categorizing and making sense of qualitative data such as research notes, surveys, and user-interview transcripts
  • In discovering gaps in current user knowledge
  • In identifying the types of research needed and how to address them
  • In creating personas by grouping empathy maps of individual users

Communicates a user persona to others

Since an empathy map is an illustrated content about the user’s attitudes and behaviors, it can also act as a good source of information for visual project presentations. You may just keep tabs of the changes on your empathy maps and edit them as needed.

Collects data from users

You can also let users fill in the empathy map and you can use this as a secondary source of information. This kind of empathy map can be used as a starting point for the user session summary. This can also show you the user’s feelings and thoughts that may remain hidden from the designer’s perspective.


How do you create empathy maps?

Below is the 6-step process in building your empathy map:


Step 1: Define the scope and goals

You have two things to define here:

  • Define the persona or the user you will map – Whether you plan to map a persona or an individual user, it is good to start with a 1:1 empathy mapping (1 user or persona per empathy map). If you have multiple personas or users, then there should be one empathy map for each.
  • Define the purpose for empathy mapping – Is your purpose to align the team on your user? If yes, then make sure that everyone is present during the empathy-mapping session. Is it to analyze an interview? If yes, better set a clear scope and timeline of your efforts to ensure that you have properly scheduled your time to map multiple users.  


Step 2: Gather the materials

After defining your goal or purpose, you should be able to define the right materials to use to create an empathy map.

If you work with a team, it is best to set-up a large whiteboard and to use sticky notes and markers to create an empathy map. It should look like the picture below:

empathy mapping by group

 IMAGE SOURCE: IBM

If you will do the empathy mapping alone, it is best to create a system that works well for you. Keep in mind to have an empathy map that is easier to share with other members and teams.


Step 3: Collect research

Empathy mapping is a qualitative method. Thus, you will need qualitative inputs like user interviews, field studies, diary studies, listening sessions, or surveys. In this step, gather research that you need to create your empathy map.


Step 4: Generate individual sticky notes for each quadrant

When you are mapping with a team, make sure that everyone reads the research individually. Once you have the research inputs, each team member can fill out the sticky notes that align in the four quadrants. Team members can also add their notes to the map.


Step 5: Cluster and synthesize

This step requires the team to move the sticky notes on the board to collaborate and cluster similar notes that belong to the same quadrant.

The team should also be able to identify and name the clusters with “themes” that best describe each group. Like for example, “research” or “3rd-party validation”.

You may repeat themes when necessary. The clustering session facilities discussion and alignment among team members. The goal of this activity is to arrive at a shared understanding of the user by all members of your team.

Once the empathy map is clustered, your team may now begin to vocalize the findings. For example, you may throw questions like “what are the data points that did not fit in any of the clusters?” or “what themes are repeated in the quadrants?”


Step 6: Polish and plan the map

If you require more details or you have needs that should be catered, you may change the map based on these needs. You may add more quadrants, for example. You may also provide more specific details to your existing quadrants. You may edit, adapt, and polish your map based on your needs and purpose.

Always include the user, all the outstanding questions, date, and version number on your map. Always go back to your empathy map and edit the necessary changes as you proceed with more research. This will help you create a guide for better UX decisions.


Effective empathy mapping tips

  • When it comes to gathering data, the most valuable ideas are from the time spent listening to users. You can start by interviewing or observing your potential users have a better understanding of their pain points and needs.
  • Do not do it alone. While it is okay to create an empathy map by yourself, still it is best to do it with a team. If you can, invite stakeholders too! This is beneficial in creating richer empathy maps by balancing goals and user’s needs. Also, this makes sure that the user experience team and the stakeholders are on the same page.
  • Make sure that you have enough time for the session. At most, it should not take longer than 60 minutes but it is practical to add 30 minutes more just to make sure you have everything covered in one session. Print out the needed materials, which can serve as your cues during the session. This will prevent the members from using their digital devices during the meeting.
  • It is best to have an experienced moderator to facilitate a session. The experienced moderator is someone who does not ask leading questions that frames the participant’s mind around a particular answer, someone who does not express their own opinion, and someone who makes sure that everyone participates in the entire session.
  • At the end of the session, you may use the map as documentation. The members can use this as a reference to validate their assumptions to a user/persona. You may also use this as a poster as a good reminder while they work. Just keep in mind to always adjust the empathy map as you learn more about your users.


Takeaway bonus: A list of free empathy mapping templates

Yes, we got them all sorted out for you below. A list of free empathy mapping template that you can create and use right away:

Miro Template Online

Milanote Template

Sketch Resource

Designing Personas

Customer Empathy Map Template

Vizzlo’s Template

UxPressia Template

DesignThinker Template

Moqups Empathy map Template

PlaybookUX Template


Conclusion

Customer-first policy is what empathy maps are for. If you want your design to be catered by users, then think about the users when designing the product.

Empathy mapping leads to a deeper understanding of how users see the product and what needs should be considered and prioritized first. As a result, empathy maps affect the whole UX design, which helps create a better user-friendly product.

Mary Ann Dalangin

About the author

A content marketing strategist and a UX writer with years of experience in the digital marketing industry.

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