Amlan Sarkar

The Why and How of Empathy Mapping in UX

Empathy Mapping: Putting yourself in someone else's shoes

Human beings are complex in nature. As a UX designer, we need to know the exact thought process of our users. What they say, think, do, and feel about the products and services we offer to them. From a purely professional point of view, it is our fundamental duty to understand the needs of our users. We are required to peep into the heads of our users to deeply understand our users’ mindsets and prioritize their needs. How can we perform such a task? It is not easy to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and extract the necessary information from their perspective. The empathy mapping technique has rendered useful service in this regard. UX design is human-centric, and empathy plays a pivotal role in determining the factors that influence the outcome of the design.

What is Empathy Mapping?

Empathy mapping is a simple, plainly-explained, easy-to-understand technique of creating a visual by incorporating all the necessary information and knowledge about the behaviors and attitudes of the users from their perspective. It’s a collaborative effort that requires a deep understanding of the user needs with an eye on their emotional aspect. Empathy maps should be designed once you complete your user research.

We need to create the map at the beginning of the design process and before the requirements and concept mapping stage. An empathy map thus created will help UX designers to understand better the emotional viewpoint of the users. It is a beneficial tool to examine and assess the difficulties faced by the users, their struggles, their frustrations, and the resultant strain from their POV. By creating an empathy map, UX designers can work on to alleviate such emotional discontents of the users.

How to create an Empathy Map?

The traditional approach of creating an empathy map requires you to create four quadrants on a worksheet placing the user in the center. The four quadrants represent the user's thought process/activities. On each quadrant, we place one such user's thought process/activities in chronological order. These thought processes are what the user says, thinks, does, and feels. It looks like the following diagram:

While creating the empathy map, we need to conduct an extensive interview with our users and record the interactions with them.

In the ‘Says’ quadrant, we are to put our users’ spoken words, words that are physically audible to our ears, carrying their requirements, comments, and opinions.

In the ‘thinks’ quadrant, we have to record our users' experience about the products and services on offer. It is a rather tricky and complicated process. Our users are not always forthcoming about their experiences and seem reluctant to share their true opinions. Thus, it is the responsibility of the user research team to make the users share their exact thoughts about the experience they gathered while interacting with any interface.

The ‘Does’ quadrant involves the physical activity of the users, what actions they usually take and how they do it. For example, some people resort to comparing the prices of the same product/service available on different user interfaces, while some others refresh the page several times.

The ‘Feels’ quadrant represents the emotional state of the user, their anxieties, worries, excitements, jubilations etc. Some users tend to become impatient very quickly while some others get confused very easily. The research team has to consider all these aspects and record accordingly. While going through the ‘Think’ quadrant, they may have to rely upon some obvious inferences, some assumptions, and some implicit contexts of the interactions.

Pros and Cons of Empathy Mapping

After due completion of all the sections, it’s time to reflect upon what we learn from the exercise. Following the session, you are sure to find some new insights. Apply these insights in solving the problems of the users with a customer empathy-oriented point of view.

However, you also need to remember that empathy mapping is a short term tool in the hands of the UX designers. Empathy mapping is not very relevant in the context of broader company culture and does not hold much significance in organizational mind-shift.