Where Does Empathy Mapping Sit in the UX Design Process?
Now we’ve got a handle on what empathy maps are (and why they’re so crucial to UX design), let’s dive into the practice of empathy mapping.
Empathy mapping is the collaborative process of creating an empathy map. It usually takes place at the beginning of the UX design process, also known as the discovery phase.
Some popular empathy mapping workshop formats include:
- Virtual empathy mapping workshops using tools like Miro or Sketch
- In-person empathy mapping sessions using whiteboards or Post-it notes
While UX designers tend to lead empathy mapping workshops, the sessions should involve key stakeholders from across the business; including senior managers, marketers, sales, researchers, developers, and customer support. This way, everyone can contribute their ideas and perspectives. It encourages teams to think deeply about their customers, helping them develop more effective strategies to address user pain points.
Step-By-Step: How to Approach Empathy Mapping
Leading an empathy mapping session is an incredibly useful skill—but for more junior UX designers, it can seem like a daunting feat. To help you along your way, we’ve broken the empathy mapping process down into five easy steps.
Step 1: Establish goals
Before you start empathy mapping, it's essential to define your goals. What do you want to achieve throughout the empathy mapping session? Are you looking to improve the user experience of a particular product or service? Are you trying to solve a problem, or identify new opportunities?
It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of user insights during empathy mapping sessions, but understanding your goals will help you keep the session focused—and result in a much more refined (and relevant) empathy map.
Step 2: Define your user
Once you've established your goals, it’s time to define your user. Who is your target customer or user? What are their characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes?
The key is to be as granular as possible to take as much guesswork out of it as possible. This might include demographic data, online behavior, and their experience with similar products or services.
Step 3: Gather your research
With your goals and users defined, it's time to gather your research. There are various methods for gathering user research, including user interviews, observations, and surveys. Conducting user interviews is an excellent way to gather qualitative data and understand your users' goals, pain points, and motivations.
Heatmaps like Hotjar and surveys can also provide quantitative data, like user behavior and preferences. Be thorough in your research, but try to keep it relevant. You might learn that your user has a cat, but if you’re designing a fitness app, that’s not information you’d necessarily include in your empathy map.
Step 4: Refine your empathy map
After you've gathered your research, it's time for the fun part: Refining your empathy map! Start by organizing your data into themes or insights. Then, group those themes into the four key categories:
This refinement is the ‘heart’ of the empathy mapping session, and requires both pragmatism and imagination in equal parts—especially when it comes to workshopping what your users think and feel (as you don’t know for sure).
You might find that different teams have different opinions, but that’s exactly what empathy mapping is for: Using research as a jumping-off point to explore the emotions, experiences, and pain points of your users. In the end, you’ll have a clear, straightforward empathy map that everyone’s on board with.
Step 5: Review and analyze
Once you’ve created and refined your empathy map, all this new information needs to be distilled into action points. With a clearer understanding of user pain points—and where your product can add value—you can review and refine your user personas, create user flows, and adjust the overall product design strategy.
It’s also important to do a pulse check for all your participants: Did the empathy map change their perceptions of the user? How do these new insights impact their strategy? How did they find the session? Reviewing and reflecting will help you determine whether you achieved the original goals you laid out, and whether your map accurately represents your user's needs.
Empathy mapping is more than just a helpful reference point; it's a crucial pillar of human-centric design—and an essential tool for any business that wants to remain competitive and stay ahead of the curve. Empathy mapping is also a great way for junior UX designers to get involved in the early stages of the product design process, and gauge crucial insights that’ll drive important design decisions down the line.