How to understand your users with empathy mapping

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Empathy mapping is what you do when you’re trying to get to know your users. It’s the first thing you do when understanding how your product is solving problems for your target user group. It should be a key part of your UX strategy design.

An empathy map is usually the step before you create needs statements and personas. It is best to do them immediately after a customer interview.

Why do we do empathy maps?

We do empathy maps to empathize with our users to understand what they’re feeling and thinking, it’s very important because it allows us to get into the mind of the user and understand why they do the things they do. When talking to somebody you need to conduct a user interview, you can learn more about how to do that in my other article here. The empathy map is how you theme the interview insights and break them down into different categories to give you an overall picture of the person and their wants and needs.

Create your empathy map

Using design thinking methodology we break down our notes into four main character categories. The categories are: think, say, feel, and do. You can also add pains and gains as you work through your questions to understand the problems and how your product is trying to solve them.

Use post-notes to capture each observation, you should end up with a few stacks worth of notes. After the session, you can then start putting each note into one of the 4 sections, think, say, feel, and do.

Another tip is I usually use a happy face :-) for gains and the sad face :( for pains. This helps as you theme them to see patterns.

To create an empathy board you need to 1st draw a picture of the user which is just a :-) in the middle. I use this space to put personal information which might be their age, how many children they have, what they do for a job or any personal info so you have it recorded. The map should also be clearly labeled with the dates, customer name, what product and why.

Empathy map template

Placing your notes

To understand which notes to put where ask yourself is it a thought they had, something they said, a feeling or something they are doing.

Say — Anything they say that is of value should go here, try to capture their exact words as it’s important the language they use.

Do — Doing is for anything that the user does. For example, they might wake up at 6 am and do a workout, they might come home from work at five and cook dinner, these are all doing things that might be relevant to the product experience or what you’re trying to solve.

Feel — Feeling is to understand how our users feel, they might say things like I feel that doesn’t work for me or I feel really good after I do that. Feelings are very important to get into the mind of your customers and understand their feelings.

Think — This is often where people will talk about ideas they have, I think it would better fast, I think it would be a bad idea! Think lets you understand ideas they may have or views on the current experience that can then maybe lead to feelings.

Here is an example of an empathy map where you can see the post-it notes mapped out. I usually create a physical empathy map, take photos of it and then save it to a digital whiteboard so it is easy to share.

Hand drawn empathy map

You can just go straight into using the digital often these days as it saves a step in the process. Especially as we are always looking to keep our insights and data somewhere so we can search and understand them. It also makes the next step of theming very easy.

Digital empathy map


I have all these post notes in different categories, but how does this help me move forward and give valuable insights I can then focus on or action? That is where the theming part comes in. Once you have your post-it notes in your categories you now need to work through one section at a time and find themes.

For example, you may have several post-it notes all talking about the same thing but in different ways, so put them on top of each other, draw a circle around them and name it.

Theming empathy maps

Themes help you see the key areas that need attention or focus, from here you can then look at pain points and how they might map to your user journey, or you can create needs statements that will then go on to drive personas.

After you have done several customer interviews and themed them, you will see commonality emerge across all, the ones that are getting highlighted most are where you should focus first.

Give it a try

So you now know how to do an empathy map to understand your customer after an interview. So what are you waiting for? Connect with your users talk to them and understand what they are thinking, feeling, saying and doing. Go and create your one and let me know how it goes.

Written by Daniel Birch

CEO at UserXD

Posted on:

Tuesday, November 24, 2020


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