Navigating User Experiences with Empathy Maps

An empathy map is a powerful, visual tool that encapsulates everything designers have learned about a type of user. At its core, it is designed to foster a deeper level of understanding and empathy towards the users. Consisting of four quadrants—’says,’ ‘does,’ ‘thinks,’ and ‘feels’— an empathy map distills observed user behavior and attitudes, putting ‘the user’ at the center of everything.

The Anatomy of an Empathy Map

Creating an empathy map begins with dividing a canvas into four quadrants. Each quadrant represents an aspect of user behavior:

  1. Says: This quadrant captures verbatim quotes or paraphrases from the user.
  2. Does: Here, we document the user’s actions and behaviors.
  3. Thinks: This focuses on the user’s beliefs, decisions, and what appears to be going on in their mind.
  4. Feels: The bottom right quadrant delves into the user’s emotions and feelings.

There are two main types of empathy maps: single user empathy maps and aggregated empathy maps. While the former provides insights from an individual user, the latter consolidates feedback from a group of similar users.

Building a Single User Empathy Map

Let’s imagine we’re designing an app promising food delivery in 30 minutes or less. In our user interview with Simone, she mentions, “I wish food delivery apps provided more accurate time estimates.” This direct quote would be placed in the ‘says’ quadrant of our empathy map.

Simone shares she only orders delivery when eating alone at home. This behavior goes into the ‘does’ section. Observing her skeptical facial expression when mentioning the 30-minute guarantee, we can deduce what she ‘thinks.’ Finally, by directly asking how she feels about placing delivery orders, we fill the ‘feels’ quadrant with Simone’s expressed emotions.

Voila! We’ve just completed Simone’s empathy map.

Creating an Aggregated Empathy Map

Aggregated empathy maps help us visualize what we know about a larger user segment. They function similarly to single user maps, the key difference being that they incorporate insights from multiple users.

Suppose we interviewed two other users, Miranda and Louis, on the same day we spoke with Simone. Their thoughts, feelings, actions, and statements would be included in the corresponding quadrants alongside Simone’s feedback. For instance, if Miranda and Louis also stressed the importance of accurate delivery estimates, we would add these responses to the ‘says’ square. Similarly, any shared behaviors, thoughts, and feelings would be placed in their respective quadrants.

Aggregated empathy maps are undoubtedly more complex than single user maps as they represent diverse user feedback. However, they are invaluable tools for achieving a broad understanding of different user segments. These maps should be reflective of specific user segments, each with unique needs and thoughts. For instance, one aggregated map could represent users who find the app easy to use, while another might encapsulate the experiences of users who face difficulties with the app.

In summary, empathy maps are insightful tools that provide a window into users’ minds, promoting user-centric design and decision-making. Through their use, we can enhance our understanding of our audience, enriching the overall user experience.