Empathy Mapping In A Nutshell

Empathy mapping is a visual representation of knowledge regarding user behavior and attitudes. An empathy map can be built by defining the scope, purpose to gain user insights, and for each action, add a sticky note, summarize the findings. Expand the plan and revise.

Understanding empathy mapping

Empathy mapping is based on the concept that a user will buy a product that meets their needs and not solely based on their wants.

To identify what those needs are, empathy maps are created to help businesses gain a deeper understanding of the people they are trying to serve. With this information, buyer personas can be developed to develop and then target elements of broader user stories.

Traditional empathy maps contain four quadrants. Each provides a holistic assessment of four key user traits:

  • Says – what has the user said out loud? Use verbatim or directly quoted information wherever possible.
  • Thinks – consider the thoughts that run through the user’s mind. What is important to them? What challenges are they facing? Sometimes the user will be reluctant to share things that are bothering them, so prior qualitative research is required.
  • Does – encompassing any action the user takes. For an e-commerce company, a particular user may repeatedly add a product to their shopping cart without purchasing it.
  • Feels – often based on emotions. What worries or excites them? A user may be overjoyed at buying a product on sale but then experience frustration upon not being able to learn how to use it.

Creating an empathy map

To create an empathy map, businesses should follow these steps:

  1. Define the scope. Will the map be representative of a buyer persona or an individual user?
  2. Define the purpose. If the goal is to align the whole company, then every team member should be involved. However, if the focus is on qualitative research then only suitably skilled individuals should be approached.
  3. Gain user insights. Interviews, surveys, and field studies are a good place to start.
  4. Write each action on a sticky note based on insights gleaned from the previous step. Team members should work collaboratively to group similar sticky notes according to each quadrant. 
  5. Summarise the findings. Were there any actions that did not fit any quadrant? Were there common themes or conversely, themes that occurred rarely? What does prevalence or a lack thereof say about potential gaps in user understanding?
  6. Expand, plan, and revise. In some cases, businesses will need to add further quadrants to accommodate gaps in their knowledge. “Goals” and “Pains” are two examples of extra quadrants that are used in empathy mapping. Once a final map has been created, it should be digitized and distributed to relevant employees. It should also be noted that empathy mapping is an iterative process. Plan to revisit and update maps periodically when new insights are identified.

Empathy mapping best practices

Empathy mapping is a collaborative effort, so it is perhaps inevitable that disagreements will occur regarding where actions should be assigned. Each team member may categorize information differently according to their personal values or experiences. 

Remember that the goal with empathy mapping is to identify and connect with the user. Much less importance is placed on accurately classifying information into each quadrant.

Furthermore, ensure that the mapping process does not include extraneous information. Businesses should only perform and incorporate qualitative research that directly relates to how a user interacts with their products or services.

Key takeaways

  • Empathy mapping is a visualization process that helps businesses understand what their users want out of products 
  • Empathy mapping involves the analysis of four quadrants: says, thinks, does, and feels. Together, the four quadrants give a holistic view of how a user interacts with a product or service.
  • To get the most out of empathy mapping, businesses should focus on identifying with the user by incorporating a broad suite of team member perspectives. While the quadrants are important delineations, teams can lose sight of the end goal by debating minute details.

Connected Business Frameworks

Impact mapping is a product development technique based on user design, mind mapping, and outcome-driven planning. Impact mapping is an agile technique intended to help teams connect individual product features that can impact the user behaviors while connecting to the key, guiding metrics for the business.
Value stream mapping uses flowcharts to analyze and then improve on the delivery of products and services. Value stream mapping (VSM) is based on the concept of value streams – which are a series of sequential steps that explain how a product or service is delivered to consumers.
Perceptual mapping is the visual representation of consumer perceptions of brands, products, services, and organizations as a whole. Indeed, perceptual mapping asks consumers to place competing products relative to one another on a graph to assess how they perform with respect to each other in terms of perception.
The operating model is a visual representation and mapping of the processes and how the organization delivers value and, therefore, how it executes its business model. Therefore, the operating model is how the whole organization is structured around the value chain to build a viable business model.
Customer experience maps are visual representations of every encounter a customer has with a brand. On a customer experience map, interactions called touchpoints visually denote each interaction that a business has with its consumers. Typically, these include every interaction from the first contact to marketing, branding, sales, and customer support.

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