An Empathy Map helps to better understand the motivations of your users using or experiencing something. It can be used in different stages of product development and research.
This article provides you with a first overview of the technique.
You will learn when and how to use an Empathy Map.
Jul 1, 2023 – Updated Nov 11, 2023, 9:19 AM
What is an Empathy Map?
The technique or method was conceptualized by Scott Matthews (“Big Heads”) and Dave Gray (“Empathy Map”) in 2017. The goal was to better understand customers and their users within their business ecosystem. Since then it has become a common tool in user research and product development, especially after it was promoted by the Stanford d.school, Accenture, IDEO and the Nielsen Norman Group. Today there are mainy variations and the original version has also undergone some adaptions. (You find a link in the reference section to an article by Tim May that explains the history of this method.)
We will use a simplified version that you can further adapt to your specific needs.
When to use an Empathy Map?
Generally speaking you use an Empathy Map whenever you want to better understand your customers and audiences.
To give you some ideas about its usage: I have used it in workshops to create a shared understanding of user motivations, building evidence-based personas, understanding value creation when working with a business model canvas, product discovery work, consoliding findings from user research, etc. Due its simplicity and ease of use it can complement many other techniques. This method shines whenever you want to put yourself in the shoes of the user or if you want to create a common (visualized) understanding of your users.
How to do it?
In the center you can see the user. An Empathy Map builds around the user. We want to get a better understanding of…
- what they think and feel about something?
- how they perceive their environment?
- what determines or influences them?
- what we can observe?
As this would be far to abstract (and serve as starting point for working on a thesis ;-) you put these dimensions in the narrower context of your product or service.
- What do users think and feel about your product?
- What do users hear about your product from their environment?
- What do users see when they use your product?
- What do users say about your product?
- What do users do with your product?
The first thing you do is to set the appropriate flight level or context. If you want to understand your users from the perspective of your digital product then the product is the context. If you explore certain product capabilities (features) during a research project then you choose an even more specific context.
Make it concrete! Set the flight level to the context you want to understand about your user. In the center of the map you place your persona and you give it a name.
Let's have a look at some of the perspectives you might include for each dimension. This is not an exhaustive list and not everything mentioned must be considered. It is a framework and you adapt and use the perspectives that are useful for your case:
- How do users come to decisions?
- What needs hide behind their wants?
- What are the motivations?
- What are the goals?
- What is understood as success?
- What do users hope for?
- What do they fear? When do they get anxious?
- What concerns them? What keeps them up at night?
- What makes them happy?
- What is overwhelming for them?
- What do their superiors tell them?
- What do they hear from their colleagues? (friends, family…)
- What influences them? (media, influencers, company, conferences…)
- What media do they consume? (social and business networks…)
- How do they perceive their world changing?
- What are they telling to others?
- How are they talking about something?
- What key messages do they share?
- What reviews or feedback do they give?
- How do they express pains or gains?
- What priorities do they set?
- What is their job they want to get done?
- What behavior can we observe?
Pains and Gains
Creating an Empathy Map is all about understanding your users. Although you adapt the dimensions to your specific use case you might want to show the impact of your product on the user as well.
Think about the job the user wants to get done (goal / objective) and what Pains and Gains the user experiences during this User Journey. This gives you the opportunity to record additionally what parts of product (product portfolio, product or service, product capabilities, etc.) have what impact on the user.
As you can see, an Empathy Map is a way to understand users in a structured way. Start with the most simple approach and adapt it to your specific needs. You can add additional layers such as Pains and Gains as needed.
Of course, you can use an Empathy Map to capture insights about one specific user as well as multiple users.
- Doing it for one users helps for example before, during and after you have conducted an interview to reflect once more about your findings
- An Aggregated Empathy Map helps to build personas, represent cohorts (segments), share research findings with stakeholders, etc.
References and recommended readings
- Gray, Dave (2017a): Empathy Map URL: https://gamestorming.com/empathy-mapping/ (01 Jul 2023)
- Gray, Dave (2017b): Updated Empathy Map Canvas URL: https://medium.com/@davegray/updated-empathy-map-canvas-46df22df3c8a (01 Jul 2023)
- May, Tim (2021): The Empathy Map: A Human-Centered tool for Understanding How Your Audience Thinks URL: hhttps://xplane.com/the-empathy-map-a-human-centered-tool-for-understanding-how-your-audience-thinks/ (01 Jul 2023)
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