How to Design Empathy Maps to Better Understand Your Users

Empathy maps are a way to understand what your users are thinking and feeling when they are using your specific digital product or service. They help build a broader understanding of the ‘why’ behind user needs and actions.

When constructing an empathy map graphic,1 you’ll want to label and define the following sections:

The answers to these questions will help guide your interview sessions and interaction with your users in your user research.

Interviewing Users

One of the primary benefits of designing an empathy map is having a conversation with people outside of the project group. Different stakeholders will often project their own ideas and biases onto a project, shaping the design solution before considering user needs or expectations. Balancing stakeholders goals and user needs is challenging and requires focus.

Our users need a better way to __ BECAUSE __. The because portion is a big deal.

Dr. James Patell of Stanford

New UX designers need to become comfortable with interviewing as part of their user research and information gathering. Speaking directly with users will give you insights into their motivations. The design solution needs to be aligned with user desires and needs to address user needs and underlying fears. Finding out the “why” is the key goal of interviewing users.

User responses are written down onto sticky notes and placed onto the appropriate area of the empathy map. Some responses will require further investigation and research. Review the responses and see if further follow-up is required. Make sure to have a breadth of responses in order not to leave any grey areas, and a depth of responses to prevent misinterpretation.

Why, When, Where?

Understanding the “why” can provide insight that will inform subtle changes to a design that will have a meaningful impact on users experiences and ensure that users’ expectations for interaction will be met. Changes to labels and interactions can take a digital product or service from being mediocre to providing exceptional value for users.

It is also important to understand the “when” – the conditions or situation in which the user will interact with the digital product or service, and the “where” – the spatial or temporal aspect associated with interacting with the application.

All of these factors will help you finalize your empathy map.

User Goals

Understanding user goals will help you design a better digital product that creates an enhanced user experience. Common user goals can include wanting to be informed (How much is in my bank account? What is the weather forecast for tomorrow?) or entertained, having their curiosity satisfied, or having their concerns addressed (Is my order correct? Was my package delivered safely?).

Using the example of a “repeat last order” button when ordering pizza, the possible motivations for the action can be craving/desire (looking forward to having pizza), convenience (don’t want to cook), and emotional need (having pizza makes me feel better).

Using Empathy Maps

Empathy maps are a great way to add structure to your user interviews and to provide a contextual framework for gaining insight into your users’ motivations, goals and expectations. Research helps you to understand the “why,” and also the “when” and “where,” users may interact with your digital product or service.

Focusing on user goals will help you define benchmarks for evaluating if the design solution is meeting user expectations.