Empathy Mapping in Design Thinking

Written by
Estefanía Teixeira

An Empathy Map helps to understand user interaction with a unique approach. Tools like these allow designers to empathize more with their users’ needs. This approach outlines the data from the research stages. Are you aware of what an Empathy Map is? Let’s dive in!

What is Empathy Mapping? 

Empathy Maps are visual elements that capture audiences' emotions and behaviors. The idea is to visualize users' routes when using a product. This type of mapping is ideal for product developers and designers. It’s also helpful for marketing, sales, and customer service teams.

In this scenario, empathy maps create a collaborative environment where everyone can participate. Good mapping allows info synthesis and clarification. Along with the benefits of empathy mapping, we can see:

● Understanding of user mindsets
● Special attention to user behavior
● Best information structuring.
● Essential, fast, and cheap.
● Customizable

What is the Function of an Empathy Map?

An empathy map is a problem-solving tool through the generation of unique solutions. Its core goal relies on getting into the user's mind to understand how they feel when using a product. However, you can complement this by using prototypes and usability tests. Empathy mapping is an important stage of design thinking. It encompasses an interactive process that seeks experimentation to create solutions for users. The empathy map is ideal for determining improvement areas and finding growth opportunities. 

What are User Characters in Empathy Mapping?

Users and empathy maps go hand in hand. The map is the basis of all development and helps to create a user character. The map includes two crucial principles: observation and real-people investigation. These mechanisms allow more rooted-in-reality user character creation. User characters are prototypes that simulate ideal customers' usage of your app. Based on them, you can get different POVs of your product usage. Diversity is critical in this process since characters should represent your target users. Consider fields like gender, age, and sexual orientation.

What are the Elements of an Empathy Map?

An empathy map has four quadrants or parts. The user's representation is right in the middle of it. All quadrants represent specific objectives and delve deeper into the user's mindset. The map aims to organize and structure the obtained info visually. Let's see what each empathy map quadrant focuses on!

Says. This quadrant highlights collected notes directly made by users in the research process. You can see quotes like: "I need something to fix [problem] ASAP."
Thinks. While related to the prior, it highlights the user's innermost statements with a qualitative approach. The idea is to unravel non-shared thoughts and learn how the user relates to the product's experience. 
Feels: This category encompasses emotional issues. It's advisable to study the emotions achieved through their stratification. It inquires about the deeper insights of the target audience. What feeling does the user experience with the final product? What emotions does the final product cause in the user?
Does: This quadrant focuses on the physical actions of the user. For example, the frequency with which the user selects a specific action.

A good recommendation for map development is to create an extra goal section at the bottom of the map. It's a way of knowing the vision the user is looking for in the final result!

How to Create an Empathy Map?

There are a series of steps that help create an empathy map. We’ll see them below.

1. Goals. Ask yourself what type of user you will map. What is the purpose of your map?
2. Resources. There are two ways to do the mapping. The first is to make a physical map on a blackboard with markers and sticky notes. The second is digital organization templates.
3. Information. Data collection is the gasoline that drives empathy mapping. Here, qualitative methods entail user interviews, studies, and surveys, among others.
4. Compilation. All mapping members should have the same information. Post-investigation, interested parties can add individual notes to the mapping.
5. Order. When collecting the notes, group them within the quadrants. At this phase, it's not relevant if different users seem alike.
6. Refining. It is advisable to add quadrants that integrate the objectives and weak points.

The development of the map allows for categorizing the user's thoughts in one place.

Empathy Mapping vs. Travel Mapping

Over time, new ways of discovering the needs and objectives of users emerge. Among the most used techniques, besides the empathy map, is travel mappings. Travel mapping is a process of plotting out a detailed journey. You might be thinking of another type of journey. We're talking about the customer journey map. It refers to the route your target customer takes when using a product. It starts with the initial engagement and maps out each step they take until they achieve their goal.

Many people need clarification on both methods. While it's true, empathy mapping is a faster and easier way to create focus on users' thoughts. Both maps keep their focus on users. Travel mapping gives a more generic visualization that includes aspects like user thinking. The empathy map allows a more direct approach to the public. 

3 Vital Tips to Take The Most out of Empathy Mapping

Having some tips to make the best empathy map possible is always helpful. Let’s see some!

What to do before starting an empathy map?

● Identify your actual users.
● Define the primary purpose of the map.
● Assemble a Product Team to work together. 
● Execute competent investigations focused on the target user.
● Dedicate at least 1 hour to each session to cover all brainstorming processes.
● Having moderators and visual support optimizes the efficiency of meetings.

What to do during Empathy Mapping?

● Define the specific target with whom you will work. 
● Run a one-on-one mapping or one person per empathy map. 
● Take advantage of all the data collected and intertwine it with the general public.
● Use actual animation to render user characters more interactive and practical. 
● Summarize the debate and attach it to the progress system.

What to do after Empathy Mapping?

● You can use the map as a pole star. It can guide you during the documentation process!
● Recreate the empathy map via print for an accessible display of the map. In turn, you can create a digital document where those interested can make changes.


Addressing the needs based on users' behavior interpretation is a challenge. Hence, designers must consider what the user feels, thinks, and says. For companies, empathy mapping is a powerful tool for business strategy.  It can further be a tangible asset to reinforce trust with stakeholders. Are you ready to start empathy mapping? Grab your compass and binoculars!

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