What is an Empathy Map? Definition and Importance

Creating empathy with your users is one of the most important things you can do from both a business and a user experience perspective. Understanding the motivations, frustrations, and actions of your principal user is critical to targeting them effectively and providing sustainable solutions for their problems. Creating empathy, while not a trivial task, is easiest to accomplish via creating an empathy map.

In this article, we will define an empathy map, talk about how to build one for yourself, and list some of the reasons why they’re so important. Let’s get started.

Empathy Map Definition

What is an Empathy Map?

An empathy map is a template that organizes a user’s behaviors and feelings to create a sense of empathy between the user and your team. The empathy map represents a principal user and helps teams better understand their motivations, concerns, and user experience.

Empathy mapping is a simple yet effective workshop that can be conducted with a variety of different users in mind, anywhere from stakeholders, individual use cases, or entire teams of people. It can be conducted by many different teams such as design teams, sales, product development or customer service. Essentially, it is an exercise that seeks to get inside the head of the customer as they interact with your product/service.

While the main importance of an empathy map is creating empathy between you and the user, there are some other important facets of using one that offer different benefits to your team. Creating an empathy map takes many factors into consideration in relation to the customer’s overall experience. These could be the specific problems they handle, how they use the product/service within a larger team, and who really experiences the brunt of the problem. 

These details are important to creating a holistic view of their experience but also important because they illuminate the problem in the mind of your team. This is equally as important and helps build an overall understanding of how users interact with your product/service.

How to Create an Empathy Map

Creating an empathy map is a very easy task and one that can be done with the help of an online whiteboard. You can either use a premade template or make one yourself to include the specific details that you need to analyze. Either way, most empathy maps will include the same quadrant of details, and we’ll walk through how to create and use a traditional empathy map.

There are four quadrants to a traditional empathy map. These are: Does, Thinks, Says, and Feels. These quadrants will all ask unique questions about how you can analyze the perspective of the user and what they accomplish in their daily use. These can be completed in any order as long as they all take each other into consideration and are not chronological.

empathy map

User Persona

Before jumping into the quadrants you must create your principal user or user persona. This will go in the middle of the empathy map and will be the baseline assumption that you begin analyzing from. 

It’s important to make sure your team is aligned on who this portion will include and how you will address their needs. After you construct a user persona you will begin analyzing the prompts through their lens. Remember to not stray away from their perspective – stay focused on them to reveal their specific motivations and feelings.

As you flesh out your user persona, ask these questions to help move along the process and narrow down the user you will be focusing on.

  • Will your user be a specific role in a certain field? 
  • Will they be a specific customer? 
  • What does their user persona look like?

Says

The “says” portion of the empathy map focuses on the things your principal user says to you about the product and its use. This data can usually be easily gathered by conducting a usability test or a survey to better understand their opinions.

Quick surveys can be one of the best ways to gauge how people feel about a product/service and also provide a line of direct feedback from the customer back to you. Along with usability testing, surveys and customer outreach are the best way to figure out what your customers think about your product/service.

When thinking about what your customer says, ask yourself these questions to help reveal any important information:

  • What is the feedback that you receive from your customers?
  • What are your customers saying to each other?

Does

This section is dedicated to the tasks that your user accomplishes as they use your product/service. This is where the understanding of a customer journey is very helpful because you can map out each step that your user takes and understand each specific task they complete. 

By mapping their tasks, you will better understand both the actions that the user takes and the specific areas that they might struggle with. Not only will you better understand the actions they take, but you’ll also reveal how your product/service impacts their ability to process these actions and where you can improve their workflow.

When mapping out the tasks that your user completes, consider these questions as prompts:

  • What does your customer do?
  • What specific actions require your product/service?
  • Where do you see gaps in their workflow?

Thinks

The “thinks” section of the empathy map is focused on what goes through your customer’s mind as they perform the actions stated in the “does” section. Not only does this break down what goes through their mind during the “does” section but also what they think about the entire experience of using your product/service.

The things gathered from this section should also be guided by qualitative research and direct feedback. While it’s important to emphasize the inclusion of user feedback on an empathy map, it’s also important to consider the things that they would like to say, but won’t vocalize directly to you. This might be a good place to consider the overlap with the “says” section and consider what they say to each other about what they think. 

Some questions to ask when completing this portion might be:

  • What goes on in your customer’s head as they perform the tasks listed in the “does” section?
  • What do they think about the experience as a whole?
  • What do they think that they might not voice to you?

Feels

The feels quadrant takes into account the emotions of the user as they walk through your product/service. There can be a lot of contrasting feelings in this section, and it’s important to think not only about what they feel about the entire process, but how they feel about each specific step as well.

The feels section can contain many different things because people will feel all sorts of ways about your product. Rarely ever will people be strictly polarized only one way or another about a product/service, they will almost always have both positives and negatives to cope with. It’s your job to break down these positives and negatives and create something constructive from them.

Some good prompts to ask in this section could be:

  • How do they feel about the tasks they accomplish?
  • How do they feel about the experience in general?
  • What roadblocks to success do they face?
  • What gets them excited to use your product/service?

Empathy Map Advantages

As we’ve previously detailed, empathy maps are incredibly efficient tools to create an understanding of the customer’s experience and highlight areas of improvement. This is an incredibly important task for any business, and here are some of the biggest advantages to creating an empathy map.

Empathy means Enjoyment

It’s critical that users, on some level, enjoy using your product/service. If they don’t enjoy it they will eventually leave and use something else. As a business manager, this should be avoided at all costs, and the easiest way to avoid turnover is by ensuring a positive customer experience.

Empathy maps are the easiest way to break down your customer experience and highlight the areas that you can target for improvement. By incorporating surveys and lines of direct feedback, they serve almost as a usability test and a journey map, all in one.

Not only can you realize where their experience is lacking but by putting yourself in the shoes of the user you gain a better perspective of how your product functions in general. By understanding this you can find holes and flaws that you didn’t know previously existed and take your product/service to another level.

Improves Product Details

Much of our conversation about empathy mapping has come from the context of customer experience. While CX is obviously critical to any business, it is really just a reflection of the product/service that is provided.

This means that tangentially, empathy maps are also very effective product design templates. The design and functionality of a product are critical to the customer, and while each customer will have a slightly different experience, the product/service must be designed in a way that enables all of their success, no matter what their goals are. 

Through connecting with users and evolving a product design to fit their needs, empathy maps go beyond CX to directly impact the details of the product/service at hand.

Easy to Complete

One of the biggest struggles of CX is that it is hard to identify user struggles and takes a lot of time and effort. While this can be true in certain testing scenarios, implementing online surveys and creating an empathy map streamlines the entire process.

When using an empathy map you can easily sort the feelings, thoughts, and actions of your user into simple categories and from there create a new plan for how to improve both your product and their experience. This is one of the simplest ways to target customer experience and when paired with survey data is also one of the most effective ways to get a view into the life of your customer.

This simplicity makes empathy mapping one of the most effective, simplest templates around and an important addition to any business.

Conclusion

Creating empathy with your customer is a great way to establish baseline expectations for your product and experience, and empathy mapping is the best way to organize and accomplish this. If you enjoyed this article make sure you check out Fresco for other visual collaboration tips.