Empathy Mapping: Getting Inside User's Head With Empathy Map

Empathy Mapping Jun 23, 2021

We all speak of empathizing with our users, but how many of us UI/UX-ers know that we understand our users well? This a question that designers must answer, at the largest, to get started with trying to find the right problems to solve.

Kabeer Biswas, the CEO of DUNZO, a hyperlocal, on-demand service company started with the simplest question, “Do you face the same issue as I do?”. This became the base for understanding what a user is going through and sharing the same kind of problems in trying to finish a to-do list helped the company push forward to solving more problems by reaching out to millions of people.

The basic idea about empathizing is to deeply understand what one can do to make a user feel good about the product that they are interacting with and help them realize that their problems are being solved. Also keeping in mind how to simplify solving these problems.

How Do We Build Designs with Empathy?

Designing a product or solution by understanding the needs of the users is a must if we have to build products/solutions that help in ways that solve the actual problems.

In the design process, we use a tool called Empathy Mapping to try and map all the issues that were brought up by some potential users of the product being built. This could also be used as part of the heuristic evaluation process to understand how well the product is doing in the hands of a user.

Is it Necessary to Make Use of this Tool as a Part of Our Design Process?

At Fibonalabs, we follow the human-centered design process as defined by Don Norman (one who coined the term “Experience Design”). We also stand by his statement that one cannot understand all kinds of users and empathy cannot be based on research done at a particular time or place. Ethnography does play a huge role in understanding all kinds of users.

On the other hand, we do believe that every single piece of information gathered by researching users can help identify quite a lot of issues that commoners face.

Reaching out to people who may be experiencing the issues we're trying to tackle can help us identify better solutions. Based on the requirements of the product and the research being done we either jot down the points on an Empathy Map ourselves or actively involve some of the potential users we interviewed as part of the research process.

When do we Use Empathy Mapping as a Part of our Design Process?

We might have used tools like user interviews, to interact with the users to try and understand their needs, but how do we make sense of all the data that was gathered?

Empathize to define problem

Empathy maps can effectively be used to synthesize all the data that was gathered as a part of the research process. This tool would help us understand how the users felt, what they thought, what they said, and what they eventually ended up doing.

How to Use an Empathy Map?

The Empathy Map has 4 basic quadrants: Feel, Think, Say, Do. These quadrants aid in categorizing all the observations noted during the research phase.

(Small tip: Use written, coloured post-its, a different colour for each quadrant, instead of directly using marker pens to make notes in the quadrants)

Empathy Mapping

Let’s break this down into 3 major steps that can be followed to make this activity easy and fun:

Step 1: Have a beginner’s mindset. Simple right?

Now on to the next step.

Step 2: Divide a sheet of paper or a piece of cardboard paper or a table that’s right in front of you into 4 quadrants, each separately labelled as FEEL, SAY, THINK, DO.

Now to help you jot down the points according to the categories, question yourself as to what the user felt, is it a thought they had in mind, did they say something or did they perform a certain action?

  1. FEEL: Note anything that the users pointed out and said that they felt a certain way about it. Catch feelings!
  2. SAY: What did the user say? Was it an experience that they spoke about? Jot that down like a quote by the user. Make them the hero!
  3. THINK: When users think, they think in terms of their needs and wants. Make a note of every small idea they thought was brilliant and also something that they thought made no sense to them at all.
  4. DO: This is when that recorded user interview video comes in handy. Observe all the actions of the users and make note of even times when they hesitated to act.

Step 3: This step involves the process of Theming.

After separating all the points according to the 4 quadrants, it's now time to start thinking through and building relations. We can go about doing this in different ways.

For example,

  1. We can start grouping post-its based on what the user would “want” and what the user “needs”.
  2. Or we can put on those storytelling hats and find connections between what the users thought or felt but performed.
  3. Or we could group points that talk about the same thing and draw a circle around them.

This step would help ease the process of understanding the user even further.

Once you have reached this point, remember to click a picture of your work and digitize it.

Done with Empathy Mapping, what’s next?

The above process could be repeated as many times as need be to understand the target users. Further documentation of all the information generated during the Empathy Mapping process can be done using Personas.

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