Empathy mapping is not a replacement for a user persona and it won’t replace quantitative or qualitative user research. Instead, empathy mapping is an exercise you can use to externalize assumptions about users so you can relate to them and in turn understand their desires.

This abstract thinking makes empathy mapping accessible to diverse teams and has been adopted by product designers, marketing teams, sales teams and more. Almost anyone can benefit from an empathy mapping exercise because it doesn’t require concrete demographic or psychographic data to extract insights. You can even perform this activity as an individual, although, you will be much more successful in a group setting where you can combine collective knowledge and learn from each-others understanding.

In short, an empathy map will help you get inside your user’s head–whether they are a prospective customer, a target market, or a product user–by painting a detailed picture of how the user thinks/feels, sees the world, says/does, and what they hear. I’ll break it down with some visuals below.

Drawing An Empathy Map

Step 1: On a large piece of paper identify your user or draw them in the center of four quadrants.

Step 2: Label each of the four quadrants: See, Hear, Think & Feel, and Say & Do.

Also, add sections for user pains and gains at the bottom of your paper.

How to populate an empathy map?

Draw on existing knowledge and research (especially user personas) if you have them.
Optionally, consider what users have been saying online — social media, product reviews, consumer reports, etc

Most importantly, use your imagination to fill in the gaps.

Getting Started

Step 1: Define your user persona

The first thing to do is decide who your user is and establish a base level definition of characteristics. If you have existing research you should draw from it to inform your map. Only map a single user persona at a time. If you have more than one persona to map, repeat the exercise for each user.

Step 2: Gather research and materials

If you have existing user research, distribute copies to your participants and provide adequate time for each participant to review the research before beginning the exercise.

Prepare the room by collecting required materials: a whiteboard or large piece of paper, sticky notes, and appropriate drawing utensils.

Step 3: Begin the mapping exercise

Thinking through the eyes of the defined user, each participant should use sticky notes to write down statements aligned to each of the four quadrants. They should stick their notes to the map while they work. Aim for at least 5 minutes and no more than 10 minutes for this portion of the exercise.

Step 4: Review as a group

Working as a team, read through the sticky notes in each quadrant, grouping similar and related notes by theme. Some of these themes will surface in more than one quadrant.

Step 5: Define user pains and gains

With the broad themes coming into focus you will start to extract insights about the user’s pain points and successes or gains. Document all of these insights on the map as they surface and continue to group and align your sticky notes until you have the insights you need to move on.

Don’t forget to document your findings and preserve your empathy map digitally. Other stakeholders in your company may benefit from reviewing the results, so make sure to summarize the steps you took and the insights gained while they are still fresh in your mind.

Conclusion

Empathy mapping exercises can take as little as 15 minutes to complete and require little to no experience for a team to extract useful user insights. If you are new to UX I hope you will take what you learned here and try out an empathy mapping exercise yourself or with your team.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
– Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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