Understanding the User: A Guide to Empathy Mapping

Empathy mapping puts the user in the center and focuses on gathering qualitative research inputs. This type of research includes qualitative interviews, field studies, diary studies or listening sessions.

During the empathy map session, use sticky notes to add your team’s findings into the four essential quadrants of the model: Says, Does, Thinks and Feels. Then, digitize the results to be easily referenced and updated throughout the project.

1. Understand the User

Collecting user research is a critical part of empathy mapping. The types of UX research used can vary, but often include user interviews and surveys. The information gathered should be organized into the four quadrants of an empathy map: says, thinks, does, and feels.

The first step in creating an empathy map is understanding the user. This can be done by identifying a persona or using a concrete example to represent the target customer. This will ensure that the empathy map is founded on real-world information and experience.

Once the persona or concrete example has been determined, the team can move through each quadrant of the empathy map and gather research on the specific traits. It’s important to note that this process can be iterative and that the empathy map should be kept alive throughout the design-thinking cycle. In addition to the research, it’s useful to include direct quotes from a user interview in each quadrant of the empathy map.

2. Gather Research

A key aspect of effective persona empathy mapping is to collect a variety of research data on your user. This can include surveys, interviews, observations, or any other source of qualitative information about your users. Once you have the data, organize it into four quadrants of the empathy map: Says, Thinks, Does, and Feels.

Each of these quadrants requires a different type of data to fill in, so it’s important to choose your research method carefully. For example, when gathering information for the “says” quadrant, you should aim to collect word-for-word quotes from your customers that capture their thoughts and feelings about your product or service.

Once you’ve collected your data, use a tool like ChatGPT to help identify patterns and outliers in your results. This will ensure that your team’s empathy map accurately represents your user and allows you to create solutions that will truly resonate with them.

3. Create a Persona

To build empathy maps, you must have data. This can come in the form of user interviews, surveys, or even customer outreach. The data is most valuable when you ask rich questions to elicit in-depth qualitative responses that showcase who your users are.

Empathy mapping is a great way to analyze the user feedback you have gathered and create a persona profile of your ideal customer/user. Typically, one persona is represented per empathy map but you can also use your research to make up a group of personas that are more representative of your overall customer base.

Each user/persona should have a set of traits that can be defined with a set of questions grouped into the four quadrants. These quadrants are What the user Does, How they Feel, What they Think, and What they Say. The answers to these questions are then used to fill out an Empathy Map.

4. Create an Empathy Map

Once you’ve collected user feedback and created your persona, you can begin to build an empathy map. This is a great way to visualize the information and bring a collaborative team closer to a shared understanding of the persona and their needs.

Empathy maps are best used early in the UX process, before the product is fully designed. They can also be used throughout the design cycle as a way to quickly synthesize research results and align the team on addressing users’ needs.

Using an online whiteboard tool like Miro, start by dividing the board into four quadrants: says, thinks, does, and feels. Then use your UX research findings to populate each quadrant with relevant information. As you work through each section, look for patterns in the data and cluster similar notes together. This will help you find themes that can be addressed through your designs. If you notice an outlier, consider talking to that user or their Sponsor User to get a better idea of the reason behind their response.