Empathy Mapping & Why Your UX Needs It


4, Jan 2021. 16:35pm

When you’re developing health care technology, keep this fact in mind: you are not your patient. You’re biased by already knowing about your practice. Your patients don’t have those insider insights. Making decisions on what you think you know about them is like playing the lottery—why guess when you can get closer to knowing? 

One of the best ways to know who your end user is, and what they may be thinking and feeling, is to make an empathy map. 

An empathy map is a tool that serves as a foundation for a fully thought-out, single end-user persona. The goal here is to understand one user’s needs through a visual chart you can reference quickly to keep your team on track as they create your software and interface design. To complete your user’s empathy map you need to have a concrete understanding of empathy itself: this is the foundation for a design that addresses your user’s needs. This will lead to understanding how they think, feel, and respond to your design, and why they are using your software or interactive tools in the first place.

The empathy map template is split into 6 sections: 

  • Says and does
  • Feels and thinks
  • Sees, hears
  • Pains 
  • Gains
  • Goals 

Says and does reflects your user’s behavior after using the product, design, or software. What do they say and what actions do they take? Feels and thinks reflects how your user is feeling about the experience and describes what matters to them. Sees and hears reflect the influences that your user is subject to from external sources. What influences their actions? Pains reflect the user’s frustrations and their hopes of overcoming them. Gains and goals reflect the overall goal that the user is attempting to reach.

If this is your first time making an empathy map, follow this simple, step-by-step method. 

Begin the process by defining:

  1. The purpose of the empathy map
  2. Who you are mapping
  3. What their tasks are 

It is extremely important to understand the context of your user’s situation. For example, this user, a busy, working, single mother of two is trying to set up a doctor’s appointment for her son using a mobile app on her lunch break. After defining the purpose, it’s time to decide on the method for visualizing the map, either with a physical whiteboard and markers, or remotely, using real-time visually collaborative tools such as MURAL or Miro. Using the templates they provide gives you a solid jumping-off point for creating a tailored empathy map that works with your unique user’s goal in mind.

After defining the purpose and goals, it’s time to address feels and thinks. Thoughts and feelings are hard to pin down, so making educated guesses at this stage is okay. The next step will clear up any issues. This is when you collect information by conducting interviews, surveys, and field studies, and observing recorded calls. You also may find it helpful to have a user fill out this or her own empathy map, which will reveal critical information that otherwise may be hidden. Here’s where many of your users’ thoughts and feelings will be confirmed or contradicted by the information you gather.

Make sure you are collecting useful and potent information by asking the user the following questions. Confirm their task by asking, “What are you trying to accomplish?” Investigate their thought process by asking, “What do you think about using this product or service, and what matters to you?” Uncover their feelings by asking, “What worries you? What do you get excited about? How do you feel using this product or service?” Discover what influences them by asking, “What services and products have you seen and heard about? What people, things, or environments influenced your choice to use this product or software?” Find their pain points by asking, “What is frustrating you? What are your fears? What issues do you hope to overcome?”

After compiling all of your research and presenting each note on your whiteboard or digital workspace you will want to summarize the results, point out contradictions between sections, and group any notes with similar responses together. Create themes for each group so you can draw conclusions from each section. 

Empathy maps created with real users in mind will have a monumental impact on the design, functionality, and requirements of your product or service. 

You should review the user empathy map before making any important, course-altering decision. When new unique user research comes in, make a new map. 

To gather additional qualitative data and to quickly validate your empathy map, you can develop surveys and usability tests on messaging, design, concepts, and more. You don’t have to make assumptions about who your users are. See what they are really doing and thinking, so you can make tools that align with their needs. 

To sum up, effective mapping requires you and your team to work together to identify your subject or user, collect useful qualitative data from their perspective, and reflect on your findings to ultimately implement changes that create solutions centered around your users.