Empathy map: A guide to user attitudes and behaviors
It's easy to think that you know your users like the back of your hand—after all, your product was built for and because of them. While it's impossible to know exactly what your users are thinking and feeling at any given moment, an empathy map will help put you in their shoes.
An empathy map enables you to identify users’ pain points, worries, anxieties, irritations, joy, and more. Here, we’ll dive into the elements of an empathy map and how they can help you build ground-breaking products.
An empathy map is a visual representation of the attitudes and behaviors of an individual user. It captures and represents a single user’s emotions and thoughts, based on first-hand data and interviews.
Traditionally, empathy maps are used to explore the attitudes and behaviors of a single user, but it’s possible to create maps for multiple individuals or a group of users. Single-user maps are typically based on conversations with a user, while multiple-user maps summarize themes and patterns seen across various empathy maps.
Empathy maps primarily help teams identify and understand their users' needs, but you can also use empathy maps to:
- Illustrate user attitudes: Visual representations of a user’s emotions can help you connect behaviors with attitudes.
- Collect firsthand data: You can collect and update qualitative data through user interviews and surveys.
Represent your user's needs visually, so you can take action on their problems.
At first glance, empathy maps and personas may seem identical, but they differ in fundamental ways. Personas represent the entirety of a user’s journey, while empathy maps are designed to highlight specific user circumstances and perspectives.
While one focuses on the big picture, the other identifies small details that greatly impact user behaviors and attitudes. The differences between empathy maps and personas mean you need to collect different types of data. Empathy maps can be created using information from a single interview, but personas need data from multiple conversations and sources over an extended period of time.
So, should you still create an empathy map if you’ve already drafted and finalized user personas? Absolutely. Both tools are crucial for understanding and empathizing with your users' needs.
- User: An individual user or group of users
- Main point: Identify and focus on specific circumstances or perspectives
- Perspective: Small details
- Data: Conversation-driven
- User: Summary of users
- Main point: Identify and focus on entire user journeys
- Perspective: Big picture
- Data: Research-driven
There are a few must-have elements in every empathy map, including what your user:
- Sees: Think about what your users' environment looks like when they use your product or service.
- Hears: What messages are your users hearing and responding to? Take note of any patterns you notice.
- Says and does: What do your users tell you directly and how do they act? Collect data through interviews, surveys, and more, and include common phrases and action observations in the “Says and Does” quadrant on your map.
- Thinks and feels: Analyze your users’ thought processes and any emotions they may communicate to you during interviews. How does your product or service make them feel? What are they thinking while using or interacting with them?
Here are seven steps to creating an empathy map with your team.
Who will your empathy map represent? Whether you’re creating a single- or multiple-user map, you need to identify the main subject. Your map should also be a stepping stone toward completing an actionable goal.
Empathy mapping requires up-to-date qualitative data. Before mapping, determine who you want to interview, what data collection methods you need, and how you’ll organize your data. Surveys, interviews, field or diary studies, and listening sessions are some of the most common ways you can collect user experience data for empathy maps.
Consider what your users experience on a day-to-day basis and how they respond. Their common phrasing and habits can help you understand where problems arise, plus ways to mitigate issues before they lead to lasting effects.
During this phase, consider:
- Changes to your industry that may affect user experiences and behavior
- Comments on social media or other platforms
- A user’s biggest roadblocks and pain points
Consider the internal factors that could affect your users' decisions. Since it’s impossible to observe these factors, they need to be inferred or received directly from a user via a survey, interview, or other form of data capture. This step should examine two major categories:
- Think: Understand your users' thought processes while they interact with your brand. It’s especially important to consider what users may be thinking but are unwilling to tell you. For example:
- “I'm irritated while using this tool.”
- “I don’t understand what I'm doing or where I need to go.”
- “This system is disorganized and difficult to use.”
- Feel: In interviews, ask your users to describe what they’re feeling at the moment. Consider their pain points, what makes them frustrated, and what brings them joy. When creating your empathy map, identify these ideas as emotions with experiential context. For example:
- The user feels irritated because our program loads slowly.
- The user feels confused when trying to navigate our website.
- Our system’s asset management tools allow users to feel relaxed.
Using a template or starting from scratch, separate your map into quadrants to categorize what your user sees, hears, thinks and feels, and says and does.
Using your collected data, ask your team to identify attitudes and behaviors. These can be written on sticky notes or added directly to your map’s template, but team members should place these observations within one of the map’s major sections. If possible, ask every team member to include at least one observation during this step.
Once you can visualize your empathy map, explore your findings by highlighting patterns. Your data may indicate common user thoughts, feelings, or actions. Identifying these patterns can help you understand your users, visualize their experiences, and adapt to their recurring needs.
Once your empathy map is complete, it’s time to discuss your findings. Teams can summarize their user patterns and brainstorm possible solutions to pain points during this stage. At this point, team members may also want to present their findings to other departments and ask for additional input from outside perspectives. Empathy maps are flexible, so consider discussing your findings regularly and updating your maps with new insights.
These best practices can help you create powerful empathy maps, increasing sensitivity and understanding during all phases of the customer journey.
- Keep conversations on track: You may end up with more information than necessary during the early mapping stages. Remember that your empathy map should directly relate to your team's or organization's preconceived goals. Every action, thought, emotion, and behavior identified during a mapping exercise must pertain to your overall objectives.
- Adapt the map: Don’t be afraid to update your empathy map or adapt its structure based on individual users. Every mapping session should produce an empathy map that reflects the unique needs of its user, which means you need to feel comfortable adding or subtracting categories while mapping. Plus, users will face distinct experiences, so their responses, behaviors, and attitudes may need to be categorized differently.
- Allow for flexible categorization: When it comes to team mapping activities, understand that every member will categorize thoughts and behaviors differently. Allow team members to categorize their own ideas initially, then use discussion time to solve any major disagreements. Flexible categorization allows team members to identify unexpected pains or gains, potentially leading to unique solutions to user needs.
When created and used correctly, empathy maps can substantially affect how brands view and interact with their users. Benefits of empathy maps include:
- Simplified data: User data can be dense and complex. Empathy maps require you to break down data into manageable pieces that narrate the user experience, attitudes, and behaviors.
- Close-up user examinations: Empathy maps ask you to consider your user’s real-world experiences at all stages—from design research to implementation. They examine user-brand interactions and provide insight into pains and gains.
- Brand-wide utilizations: While a single team usually creates empathy maps, they can be utilized by almost every department. Once a map is created, it is a universal tool that various departments can analyze and use.
While learning more about your users can benefit your bottom line, an empathy map has an even greater purpose. You can create an empathy map from scratch, but the empathy map template in FigJam provides a quick and easy way to start user mapping. Dive into our tool today to begin breaking down biases, create inclusive designs and tools, and uncover brand-based weaknesses.