Empathy Maps

Designers must advocate for the users of their products. Having empathy is the best way to be an effective advocate. Empathy is the ability to identify what someone else is thinking and feeling and to respond with appropriate emotions. Specifically, designers must understand how users think, what they need, and how they feel when using certain products or features.

Empathy maps are a tool that designers use to communicate their understanding of users to colleagues. Empathy maps can be read and understood easily, making them an excellent tool for sharing information. They can help design teams create personas. And they are an ongoing truth source throughout a product's lifecycle.

The Four Quadrants

The structure of an empathy map is straightforward. While some versions contain five or six, the traditional format of an empathy map has four quadrants: Says, Thinks, Does, and Feels. In the middle of these four quadrants is the user.

The Says quadrant contains what a user says out loud in an interview and should include direct quotes. "I need something easy" is a good example.

The Thinks quadrant captures what the user is thinking throughout the product experience. Similar to the previous quadrant but more focused on non-vocalized struggles, ask yourself what users might be unwilling to express out loud. "Why is this so difficult" is a good example.

The Does quadrant is easy. What does the user physically do? How does the user go about doing it? What actions did the user perform? "Clicks button several times" is a good example.

The Feels quadrant emphasizes your user's emotional state. What worries my user? What excites my user? Simple adjectives suffice for this quadrant: confused, overwhelmed, annoyed, anxious, impatient.

Building Your Empathy Map

Before making an empathy map, you must conduct at least one form of qualitative research, like an interview or survey.

Once you have enough research, begin mapping as a team. Use sticky notes to summarize your research and align them to your four quadrants.

Cluster similar notes together and identify them as themes. A good empathy map contains 4-8 themes per quadrant. If you have more than eight, you need to find more clusters; if you have fewer than four, you need to conduct more research.

Be sure to keep empathy maps up to date as your conduct more research and your product matures.