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Let’s say you are in the early prototyping stages of product development. You want to create the best product with the highest demand on the market to make your business rise to the top of the food chain. But how do you make sure you’re not missing the mark and delivering a product that might not fit your users’ needs? This is where an empathy map comes in handy.

With the help of empathy mapping, you gain useful data and insights into what your customers actually think and demand about your product. It’s a tool designed to guide you in tweaking the user experience and meeting their expectations to your fullest potential.

What Is an Empathy Map?

At its core, an empathy map is a tool to visualise how your customers think and feel about the product you are selling. After all, your sales depend on whether your customers truly want the product or service that you’re offering.

Dave Gray originally came up with the concept of empathy maps to answer those questions for product designers and marketing teams. This technique offers data to gain a deeper understanding of their needs and emotional state that helps you ‌make informed decisions in the best interest of your company.

How Do Empathy Maps Relate to Personae?

Whenever you talk about empathy mapping, you will often hear about the usage of so-called personae. Empathy maps and user personae are tools to reach the same goal with slightly different approaches and time you need to invest.

A user persona is the creation of a fictional ideal target customer for your product based on quantitative and qualitative data. Prior research grants specific and tangible insights into what your users demand of the product so you can cater to those needs.

Empathy maps are typically less time-consuming and can be used with personae. They can also be used to complete a fuller picture of your overall target customer base when working on your business model canvas.

It’s also possible to conduct customer research prior to creating an empathy map, which is similar to the process of establishing personae but not as intensive. The two components go hand in hand ideally but can also be used separately, depending on your needs.

If you want to learn about personae in more detail, check out our article “How to Take Advantage of Customer Personae in Business.”

What Does an Empathy Map Look Like?

We know the potential and purpose of empathy maps now but what exactly do they entail? The example below shows one simple version of Gray’s original concept:

Empathy Map example

Empathy maps typically consist of four quadrants surrounding the imagined user:

1. Thinks

This section is dedicated to assumptions users make about your product. Either you have collected data on these implicit customer reviews or put yourself in their shoes and consider your product from a consumer standpoint. Consult written reviews and read between the lines of what your users are actually thinking about your product.

2. Does

This quadrant addresses explicit actions that your users display during their use of your product. Observe their behaviour or consult prior studies to see if there are issues with how they interact with your product. This can be a wide range of actions that depend on the type of product or service you are offering

3. Says

This section contains direct quotes from the imagined user base in the middle of your map. These quotes relate to your product or service and ideally derive from research that you have collected. Typically, this section captures reviews of your customers before, during, or after their purchase.

4. Feels

This final quadrant at the bottom is arguably the most important of the four. Here, you gather all thoughts and information on how your customers feel before, during, and after the use of your product or service. If any of the features are confusing or frustrating, your customers are less likely to buy your products, after all. Therefore, it would be detrimental to underestimate the importance of this factor.

Dave Gray’s Advanced Empathy Map Canvas

In 2017, Dave Gray updated the simple original version of the empathy map and added more sections to create a different workflow. This is his advanced empathy map suggestion:

Advanced Empathy Map

The goal of gaining consumer insights remains the same, but Gray added new features to help you create even more efficient maps. The following three changes are the most notable:

1. Addition of a Goal

Considering empathy mapping is often an exercise you’ll conduct with a team, the goals section at the top of the canvas helps to define clear goals for this map. These goals refer to the persona you are empathising with in this exercise and what information you want to obtain from the exercise.

Ask yourself who the persona is and what situation they’re in. Next, determine what they need and how you can measure if they succeeded.

2. Clear Order of Actions

Gray intends for users of this advanced empathy map to work on each section in a certain order. Following a logical work pattern means a more effective and easier work flow with the best results. Therefore, start with the goals and work clockwise until you reach the inside of the “feeling” and “thinking” sections last.

3. Distinction Outward and Inward

You may have noticed that an empathy map entails analysing both implicit and explicit data about your client. Thoughts and feelings are implicit and thus, put in effort to find tangible and relevant information. Outward behaviour like the “says” or “does” sections are explicit and don’t leave much room for interpretation. This distinction is even clearer in the updated version of the empathy map given the order of the sections.

How Do You Create an Empathy Map?

We have covered the details of empathy mapping, but how do you actually create one with your team? This guide entails the most important ways on the practical side of empathy mapping.

Step 1: Conduct or Collect any Relevant Customer Research

This step is optional and depends on your goals for this exercise. In simple terms, you need a sufficient base knowledge about your customers so you can create this representative visualisation of their thoughts and feelings. You may conduct empathy interviews with users of your products or services to obtain this information, for example. 

Step 2: Choose a Template

You can either stick with the simpler four quadrant version of an empathy map or use Gray’s advanced canvas. Either way, decide on the level of detail before you start working on it. Both versions deliver the information and thought experiment you seek, but the advanced version is definitely more time-consuming.

There are several useful websites to create empathy maps such as Mural or Miro. You can use Miro’s whiteboard interface to remotely work on this exercise with your employees or coworkers in real time. It can be an individualised process depending on your needs and goals.

Step 3: Work Your Way Through the Canvas

Together with your team, collect items for your empathy map and work in a logical pattern. In most cases, simply create sticky notes, digitally or analog, to fill out each section of the empathy map.

Step 4: Evaluate Your Findings

After you have filled out the entire empathy map, analyse and evaluate the collected data for your purposes. With these new insights into the minds of your customer base, tweak your product or services to improve the user experience and cater to their specific needs and feelings. You’ll need these findings to share with stakeholders.

Conclusion

No matter how you go about creating them, empathy maps are useful tools for visualising how your customers feel and think about your products. Use this information in various ways to improve customer experiences and enhance your understanding of your target audience’s wants and needs.

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