Empathy Maps – A Way to Empathize with Users

Empathy maps are diagrams that consist of four squares. Each of these squares show what the user of a product says, thinks, does, and feels in relation to a problem that the product is trying to solve. It’s important to note that empathy maps are one way to empathize with users, and may or may not be needed for projects in the work place. There are many different strategies for empathizing with users, and this is just one of them. It’s up to you to decide the process that works best for you as you develop your own approach to the design process.

Empathy Map
Empathy Map Template

Emapathy maps come in two forms. One-user empathy maps are empathy maps created directly from an interview with a single user, while aggregated empathy maps are empathy maps that are created by combining the interview and empathy map data from multiple users who share similar needs, experiences, and goals. Aggregated empathy maps represent groups of users who interact with a product, and can be good foundation for creating persons. To learn more about the different kinds of empathy maps, check out this article on empathy mapping from the Nielsen Norman Group.

To create empathy maps, a designer will follow a set of steps:

Conduct interviews. The designer will conduct a series of interviews with users who have been selected based on a set of criteria relevant to the project’s goals. You can revisit the reading recruit interview participants to learn more about how to select users who fit the needs of your project.

Review recordings. Once the interviews are finished, the designer reviews the recondings and the the notes they took during each interview. Some designers will make transcripts of their interviews, but this is not required.

Review notes and create one-user empathy maps. Next, the designer will evaluate their recordings and interview notes. Then they’ll sort the data into one-user emapathy maps, one for each participant. Each maps will show what the users said, thought, did and felt during their interviews.

Empathy maps help designers understand their users’ needs and pain points. During the interviews, you’ll collect a lot of raw data. As you sort the interview data into each empathy map, try to identify the most important topics and details, rather than adding every aspect of the interview. Your completed empathy maps should give a clear and concise description of your user and their problems.

Creating an empathy map

Let’s break down the steps for creating an empathy map. Here is the empathy map template.

Step 1: Add the user’s name. Include the name of the person interviewed in your empathy map. Having a name attached to it will help if you ever need to look back at the original transcript or research, and it’ll distinguish this map from other maps you create.

Step 2: The “SAYS” square. Use verbatim quotes from the interview. In other words, write down exactly what the person said; don’t summarize it in your own words. If you summarize a quote, you might accicentally interpret the user’s meaning incorrectly. It’s also helpful to try to capure themes in the interview that relate to the product you’re researching. For instance, if the user restates the same problem several times during the interview, then it’s probably a major pain point. Pay special attention to challenges your user states, and record any desired benefits or expectations they mention.

Step 3: The “THINKS” square. Here, you can summarize the thoughts expressed by the user. Add feelings the user conveyed through body language, tone, or other noticeable indicators, even if they didn’t verbally express them to you. You can make inferences for some of these feelings, but you have to be careful not to make assumptions about the user. You can always ask your user for clarification on their body language if you find any contradictions.

Step 4: The “DOES” square. That’s where users states all the details on steps and actions she/he does to overcome challenges they faces. All those actions can go in the “DOES” square.

Step 5: The “FEELS” square. List the feelings the user expresses. List the feelings the user expresses. The notes you include may overlap with some of what you listed in the “THINKS” square. That’s ok! This process is meant to be a thorough documentation of your observations. If you’re the person performing the interview, you might notice signs of feelings like anger, frustration, excitement, and others. If the user doesn’t explicitly mention any feeling during the interview, you can probe for feelings with the question: “How does this make you feel?”

Empathy map example for Jennie (Donuts mobile order app)

  • “I’m not sure whether donut shop take credit/debit card or just cash only because there is no information lists on Google map or Yelp.”
  • “I’d like to know what kind of donuts they have, so I can make a decision upon arrival.”
  • “Their service is so slow sometimes, because there is one person is working there.”
  • “They do offer a big donut with spinkle on top, but since the pandemic, they stop having it. I didn’t know that I have to place an order a day before.”
  • “I’m willing to pay a little more for using card or Apple Pay.”
  • Wants place an order for pick up through mobile app
  • Would like to pay with credit/debit card
  • Would like to place an order and pay for big order for a special occation
  • Would like to have my order pack in a box with utensils
  • Doesn’t know whether they would accept big bills
  • Works a full-time job as a senoir accountant
  • Spend weekend with family and usually go biking with her young kids
  • Like to bring sweet home when she goes out for grocery shopping or run an errand
  • Frustrated and guilty during the checkout because of the “Cash Only” option
  • Sad when she can’t bring home donuts or pastries
  • Sorry when walk in and have no cash on her
  • Sorry for her kids that she can’t get her kids donuts on one of her trip back home
  • Worried about big bills because some places they don’t accept $100 or $50 dollar bills
  • Worried about having enough cash for her order

This empathy map breaks down all the point that your team will need to determine how the app can meet Jennie’s needs. The real challenge starts when you lay out the empathy maps from all of your user interviews and figure out how each of your potential users’ needs overlap.

Good luck!

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