Empathy in Action – Utilizing Empathy Maps for Deeper Understanding

Whether a team is developing a product or creating audience personas, empathy maps are an important tool to help teams gain a deeper understanding of their users. This is achieved through a process of distilling, categorizing, and making sense of qualitative research data like research notes, interview transcripts, and surveys.

User Personas

Unlike personas, which are data-driven and often based on quantitative research, empathy maps are informed by qualitative interviews with actual customers. They are designed to get teams on the same page and create a shared understanding of your customer.

empathy maps are divided into four quadrants and explore users’ points of view – what they say, see, do and feel. The “says” quadrant is typically populated with direct quotes from your user interview.

The “does” quadrant examines how a user acts in their environment and the outcomes of those actions. The “feels” quadrant captures a user’s emotions, including pains and gains. Finally, the “sees” quadrant focuses on what a user can observe in their environment. The information gathered in an empathy map is compiled into a single canvas or document, which can then be used to build more detailed assets like journey maps and personas later in the process. These can then be shared with your team to guide design decisions.

Customer Journey Maps

A customer journey map is a visual deliverable that helps teams understand their customers’ goals, challenges, and pain points. It is best used at the beginning of a design project, after user research but before requirements and concepting. It can be used to synthesize and make sense of qualitative data such as research notes, user interviews, and survey responses.

Empathy mapping is a collaborative process, so your team members will need to have access to the research you plan to use. Gather your team members and discuss the type of research you want to gather, who will participate, and what questions you have for each persona.

Once you’ve identified the personas you plan to explore, create an empathy map and fill out each quadrant with insights from your research. If a quadrant is sparse, it may indicate that further research needs to be done. You can then use your empathy maps to inform your strategy and product decisions.

Customer Journey Mapping Tool

Using empathy maps as part of a customer journey mapping session allows teams to create a shared understanding of a specific persona and help determine how to move forward with an action plan. For example, if a company is working on an e-commerce website and they are determining what features their users want the most, they can use their empathy map to identify pain points during each stage of the user’s interaction with the site.

Begin the process by establishing research inputs that will fuel the empathy map session (either qualitative or quantitative). Then, have team members read through the research and write notes on sticky notes to place into the quadrants. When the sticky notes are clustered together, the team can begin to discuss and align on common themes as they are discovered. The clusters will allow the team to discover and document any areas that still need further exploration with additional research or through a redesign of existing research efforts.

How to Use Empathy Maps

Using empathy maps is most commonly done at the start of a project as part of the design-thinking process. Empathy mapping is a great way to gather customer feedback, and it can help you develop a clear picture of the customer experience and how your product or service fits into that journey.

During the empathy mapping session, team members can use sticky notes to fill out each of the four quadrants: Say, Think, Do, Feel. Then, they can cluster similar notes together and discuss them as a group. This helps the team to build a common understanding of the personas and their experiences.

Once you have a good understanding of your customers, you can use the information from the empathy map to define your user flow. For example, if your empathy map shows that a person like Stephanie wants to buy a product, you can then design a website to provide a seamless shopping experience.

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