Design Thinking – Why you must know about empathy mapping

And the first stepping stone on your journey of design thinking is empathy mapping.


Empathy – Understanding others before judging.

Mapping – Figuring out how things are related to each other.

Understanding the consumer base has now moved beyond traditional surveys and imagined constructs. It has moved beyond just their social class, their needs, insecurities and interests. We have now reached a place where understanding how and where these interests arise in the first place becomes essential. This brings us to a solution – empathy mapping.

What is empathy mapping ?

Empathy mapping is a collaborative technique which provides a comprehensive understanding of target personas. Empathy maps therefore form an integral component to the design thinking process and help businesses provide better tailored solutions to their customers and attract prospects.

Empathy maps are a complete guide to getting into your customer’s shoes and walking around in them. Simply put, they allow us to understand how consumers think and feel.

The advantage of these maps is that they recognise and understand humans as complex beings that are a product of various external forces and factors affecting them simultaneously.

Who is it for ?

The framework is for everybody who wants to understand their customers well – Designers, Marketers, Salespersons etc.

The Empathy Map :

Empathy Map, Image credit – UXPin

The map (made on a canvas or white board for visual representation) consists of four quadrants- thinking, feeling, seeing and doing. Some include saying and hearing as well. In addition to thoughts and perceptions, the pains and gains of the user while using the product are assessed as well.

The Empathy mapping process:

1. Create and choose your customer segment.

2. Personalise it. Give the person a name and chart out basic customer demographics

3. Get into the character’s world. Fill in the section on ‘See’, ‘Hear’, ‘Think’, ‘Feel’.

4. Based on these, identify her pains and gains. You might also want to include what she will gain by using your product and what apprehensions she may have.

5. Identify what they need and any insights you have gathered through the course of empathy mapping. You might have certain realisations or find certain contradictions.

6. Involving more people will result in a more realistic empathy map. The team could be a mix of designers, salespeople, product developers and stakeholders.

It is best used when you are in the designing, strategizing or advertising stages. We can thereby create a customer profile by answering questions like:

1. What are they anxious about ?

2. What do they fear ?

3. What do they aspire for ?

4. What do they say when they talk to someone else about the product ?

5. What are the apprehensive of when they use the product and what will they gain ?

6. What do they see when using the product, what does their environment look like ?

7. What do they hear from friends/others and how does this influence them to buy/not buy the product?

You are attempting to vicariously live through the customer’s world. Empathy maps allow you to create customer cohorts to target your product to different segments better. You can understand each of these clusters better using a broad empathy map which focuses on overall user persona or a contextual empathy map which focuses on the thoughts and feelings of an individual in a situation.

Why do we need to create customer profiles?

  • Better understanding of your customer
  • Align marketing campaigns to a complex (more realistic) view of a customer
  • Better understanding of the ideal medium of communication with the customer
  • Can help you design your business model
  • Can improve product development
  • Essential for online marketing

Here is an example of a sample filled empathy map:

The Empathy Map, Image credit – IBM

As in the case with the map above, we are able to empathise with this particular segment of bank tellers and what they expect from their work solutions and what the bottlenecks are. Your aim must be to provide the solution to the persona’s problems and all of the current advantages they have.

The sections filled out on ‘hear’ and ‘see’ allow us to focus on the medium of communication. While pains, gains, think and feel let us focus on the product development itself.

Empathy maps are usually not a result of what you think your customer may be feeling or thinking, but is based off factual data from previous research with your interpretation. In fact, empathy maps allow us to find gaps in the findings, thereby bettering the customer research process.

As someone who is paranoid about design (Check out the design for my website Alore ), I really found immense value in empathy mapping as a part of design thinking and it catalysing the creation of seamless and intuitive interfaces. I hope it does so for you too !

P.S. – This article is the first in a series of articles I will be writing on the other aspects of design thinking.


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