Empathy maps are tools which help to sum up and display the needs of users and stakeholders. They are visualisations of what we know about particular types of users. They can be used to:
- Create a shared understanding of user needs.
- Enable decision making.
Empathy maps can capture the experience of one particular user or can reflect an aggregation of multiple similar users represented by a single persona.
Also known as
Empathy maps are built using a minimum of four, but sometimes more, categories around which attention is focussed. Ideally, the information you populate your categories with should be informed by research you have carried out, perhaps from interviews with or observations of users.
There is no accepted standard as to what categories should be included in an empathy map but, as a minimum, these should include the following.
Contains information about what the user says out loud.
Describes the actions the user takes.
Captures what the user is thinking throughout the experience.
Pay special attention to what users think, but may not be willing to say out loud.
Focuses on the user's emotional state.
Additional categories you might use include:
- Major worries.
Some of the categories may seem to overlap. Do not focus too much on being precise: if an item may fit into multiple categories, just pick one. The categories are there only to structure what we know about the user experience and to ensure no important point is left out.
Why use it
- Understanding how people’s lives and experiences differ and vary from our own helps to identify needs and barriers.
- Useful as a tool to analyse interview transcripts.
- Visualising user attitudes and behaviours helps to develop and articulate a deeper understanding of end users.
- They are a communication tool to help the design team, other colleagues, and decision makers to understand users and their needs.
- Empathy maps can be used to establish common ground among members of the service design team and to understand and prioritise user needs.
- Empathy maps capture who personas are and help to distil and categorise knowledge of different types of users.
When to use it
Opinions differ as to when in the service design process empathy maps should be used.
- Some commentators suggest they are used after research has been completed with information in the empathy map being based on data collected directly from users.
- Others suggest empathy maps should be living documents that are revised and adjusted throughout the design process as you carry your research out.
- The Service Design Academy suggests empathy maps can be used at the beginning of the user research stage, before any observations and interviews are undertaken, or when for some reason it is not possible to interview users.
However, using empathy maps without being able to support your findings by robust research is a dangerous approach to take because you risk imposing your own values and assumptions onto the design process rather than understanding what the user actually wants or needs.
How to use it
Before you create your empathy map, you need to set out what you are trying to achieve, scope, and goals.
- Set out clearly who you want your empathy map to represent. Are you mapping an individual user or a persona? Note that each empathy map should reflect the experiences of only one user or persona. If you have multiple personas, you will need to create an empathy map for each of them.
- Set out what you want to use your empathy map for. (See Why use it.)
- Once you have defined your scope and goals, you should set about gathering the materials you need to create your map.
- You may wish to use a whiteboard, post it notes, and markers.
- Carry out the exercise using a virtual whiteboard.
- Gather the research you will be using to inform your empathy map. This may come from user interviews, field studies, diary studies, listening sessions, or qualitative surveys.
- If you are using this in a workshop or team environment, everyone involved should produce their own set of post-its. Once these have been created, add the post-its to the relevant sections/categories of the empathy map.
- As a group, the team should then work to cluster the post-its into themes. You may wish to use affinity mapping to achieve this.
Clustering encourages discussion and consensus building. The goal is to arrive at a shared understanding of your user by all team members.
Name your clusters with themes that represent each group of post-its.
- At the end of the process, do you have any gaps in your understanding that you need to fill?
- Gibbons, S. (2018) Empathy Mapping: The First Steps in Design Thinking. Available at: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/empathy-mapping/ (Accessed 23 November 2023).
- Farnworth, D. (2014) Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head. Available at: https://copyblogger.com/empathy-maps/ (Accessed 23 November 2023)