Empathy Mapping

Visualizing user attitudes and behaviors in an empathy map helps UX teams align on a deep understanding of end users. The mapping process also reveals any holes in existing user data. An empathy map is a simple, easy-to-digest visual that captures knowledge about a user’s behaviors and attitudes. An empathy map is a collaborative visualization used to articulate what we know about a particular type of user. It externalizes knowledge about users in order to 1) create a shared understanding of user needs, and 2) aid in decision making.

As UX professionals, it is our job to advocate on behalf of the user. However, to do it, we must not only deeply understand our users but also help our colleagues understand them and prioritize their needs. Empathy maps, widely used throughout agile and design communities, are a powerful, fundamental tool for accomplishing both.

An empathy map is a useful tool for helping teams better understand their users. It is a simple workshop activity that can be done with stakeholders, marketing and sales, product development, or creative teams to build empathy for end users. For teams involved in designing and engineering products, services, or experiences, an empathy mapping session is a great exercise for groups to “get inside the heads” of users.

Creating an effective solution requires understanding the true problem and the person experiencing it. The exercise of creating the map helps participants consider things from the user’s perspective, along with his or her goals and challenges.

Empathy maps are most useful at the beginning of the design process after user research but before requirements and concepts.

The mapping process can help synthesize research observations and reveal deeper insights into user needs. (The maps are most effective when based on research data, but like provisional personas, they can be built using knowledge from internal participants or existing personas.) It can help guide the construction of personas or serve as a bridge between personas and concept deliverables.

When included in early project stages, the exercise helps teams enter the user’s world and approach things from his or her point of view before creating solutions—whether it’s ideas for content, a webpage design, an app prototype, or a new service offering. The benefits include:

  • Better understanding of the user
  • Distilled information in one visual reference
  • Callouts of key insights from research
  • Fast and inexpensive
  • Easily customizable based on available information and goals
  • A common understanding among teams

The maps can also be used throughout the design process and revised as new data becomes available. A sparsely populated map or a session that reveals more questions than answers indicates where more user research needs to be done.

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