Empathy Mapping in Design Thinking: Definition & Example

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Empathy mapping helps design teams better understand their audience. In this lesson, you'll learn more about this tool, its four quadrants and how it can be useful for understanding consumers' needs.

Mapping A Route

There are lots of different kinds of maps out there today. General reference maps help us get from one place to another, such as from our house to our summer vacation spot. Topographical maps show the layout of the landscape. Sailors and pilots each have specialized maps that help them do their job. We can even use maps to illustrate important facts about states, countries or continents.

Design thinking, a framework for finding creative solutions to problems, also has its own type of map. It's used for empathizing or understanding how other people feel, and is therefore called an empathy map.

An empathy map is an illustration that helps design thinkers more clearly understand their customers. More than that, it is a tool to help designers gain a deeper understanding of their target audience.

It can be used in team meetings to develop what team members already know about their users or after a focus group, interview or field research to populate what designers have learned through observation. An empathy map then helps designers get to know their customers by putting themselves in their shoes.

Using An Empathy Map

Luckily, an empathy map is a much simpler looking illustration than many traditional maps out there. It features four quadrants and, sometimes, a representation of the user at the center. Each quadrant is labeled with one of four terms: thinks, says, does and feels.

Empathy mapping helps a design team better understanding its consumers.
empathy, map, mapping, design, thinking

Members of the design team can populate each quadrant with the thoughts, comments, actions and feelings of their audience. This can include ideas from early brainstorming within the group itself and/or observations from research, studies, interviews, etc. Answers can be typed into a computer program, written down on the map itself (if you've used a whiteboard or flip chart) or filled in using sticky notes with thoughts and observations.

Empathy Mapping Quadrants

These are the four quadrants that lead to greater understanding of a design team's intended audience.

  1. Thinks: This is what a consumer is thinking when using your product or going through your process. What types of thoughts do you believe your consumer is having? Example: They hate packaging that requires scissors or a knife to open.
  2. Says: This is what a consumer says in an interview, research study or focus group about your products or processes. What is the consumer saying about the packaging? Example: This packaging is really hard to open by hand.
  3. Does: This is the action a consumer takes physically in response to your product or processes. What behaviors or actions did you notice? Example: User turns the packaging over and over, looking for an easy entry point.
  4. Feels: This includes the emotions a consumer is having while dealing with your product or processes. Observe a consumer's body language and facial expressions to gauge feelings. What emotions do you see? Example: The user is frustrated and annoyed that they can't get through the packaging easily.

After The Mapping

Once the empathy map has been completed, the real work begins. It's time to analyze what has been said and done, as well as thought and felt, to develop a detailed picture of what consumers' needs really are. When a consumer says, ''This packaging is really hard to open by hand'' and shows signs of frustration, their need translates to easy-to-open packaging.

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