From the archives: the empathy map

The Empathy Map
I know what some of you were thinking after you read my article on user stories. They’re great, and you understand the benefits, but what if you don’t really know what your users need? And how do you prevent your own wishful thinking from influencing the process?

If you’re in this position, then I recommend developing a clear, overarching sense of empathy for your users first. There are several tools you can use to accomplish this, but my favorite as of late is the empathy map.

Created by Dave Gray at XPLANE, and popularized by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur in their book, Business Model Generation, this nifty tool was originally used to build business models based on customer insights. These days, more and more UX-ers are also incorporating empathy maps into their workflows, myself included.

To use it, pick 1-3 users (or more, depending on your product), assign some demographic characteristics to each, choose one user to start, and answer the following:

1. What does she see?
2. What does she hear?
3. What does she really think and feel?
4. What does she say and do?
5. What’s her pain?
6. What’s her gain?

I like to enlarge the map onto a whiteboard and place answers in each segment using sticky notes, but there’s no right or wrong way to complete it.

I don’t recommend filling it out on your own, though, for obvious team-related reasons. (A no-brainer for you, I know, but I gotta put it out there.) And don’t overthink it. You can always revise it later.

Trust me, it’s a great tool. You’re gonna love it :)