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How To Use Persona Empathy Mapping?

How To Use Persona Empathy Mapping?

Design Process
6 min

Empathy is the unique human capacity to put oneself in another's shoes. As UX professionals, marketers, directors, and stakeholders, we try to see inside our customers' heads at every stage of the product life cycle. But how can we know for sure about their desires, hesitations, and fears behind actions on the web? 

An empathy map is a ready-to-use tool to understand the user. Arounda’s team has conducted numerous workshops on empathy map creation while working on UI/UX design for mobile apps, corporate websites, and SaaS solutions. In this article, we discuss the following:

What Is Persona Empathy Mapping And Why We Do It?

Empathy maps are a powerful tool to visualize what we know about a particular type of user and share a common understanding with the team. 

Empathy Map Description

The classical UX empathy map consists of four squares, which outline four different aspects of the user’s inner sensations:  

  • Thoughts
  • Feelings
  • Words
  • Actions 

When we complete the areas with users’ quotes and emotional states, the empathy map becomes personal and vivid. So let`s practice reading users' thoughts. 

Thoughts: 

  • ‘This is really irritating’
  • ‘Do they think I am stupid not to understand this?’ 
  • ‘Where was that demo video?’

Feelings:

  • Confused about a price tag
  • Worried if this is really going to work
  • Amused by the animated top background 

Words:

  • ‘I want something simple’ 
  • ‘I don’t know where to start 
  • ‘Do you have a freemium account?’

Actions:

  • Googles to compare prices
  • Reads reviews
  • Checks portfolio page

For instance, if we visualize the inner dialogue of a young manager Jack when he organizes a party, it might look like this. 

Empathy Map Layouts

You can find several variations of the persona empathy mapping format. For example, the super fast and easy draft may include three areas: 

  • Think
  • Feel
  • Do

A more sophisticated layout has a bottom line with goals and pains and slightly different fields:

  • Think&Feel
  • Hear
  • See
  • Say&Do
  • Gains
  • Pains

There is no ultimate best format for the user empathy map. Instead, we draw the layout depending on circumstances and adopt existing templates for our needs. 

Why Do You Need Persona Empathy Mapping?

There are several visualization methods that we use in product development, such as customer journey maps, buyer persona, SWOT analysis. All of them show the process from different angles. For example, the difference between persona and empathy map is that the latter comes as the first sketch of the user portrait and is done alongside the core team members. On the other hand, the buyer persona is a more thorough and fixed picture of the client. 

Empathy maps are most beneficial at the beginning of the product life cycle when you already have user research results before detailed ideation. When you know what`s boiling inside the users' minds, you can optimize product strategy, content plan, webpage wireframe, app prototype, UX design, or an extended version offering. 

All in all, empathy maps done in time positively affect the entire project.   

How To Create An Empathy Map

To advocate on behalf of the user, not only founders and managers have to understand them. We must also help our colleagues get into the users’ skin. Creating an empathy map is an immersive workshop exercise where the team makes a realistic user portrait that they can refer to in completing their everyday tasks. 

Let's see how to make an empathy map with your team step-by-step. 

Elements and Steps

The persona empathy mapping workshop is a small event that needs some preparation. 

  • First, you should set aside from 30 minutes to an hour for the meeting. 
  • Set an appointment for the core team players, such as UX designers, product managers, developers, and marketers. You might also invite the stakeholders. 
  • Take care of supplies for the workshop. You will require a whiteboard, flip chart, or printed templates for the mapping,  fine black markers, and sticky notes in 5 different colors.    

Step 1: Establish Focus and Goals

Empathy maps can serve for a general understanding or specific user personas or tasks. The general question for the session could be why users would choose your app in the first place. And if you see that users drop out in the middle of the site registration form, you can concentrate on how they manage or fail this task. You can`t do both parts during one session, so it`s essential to define the scope and goals beforehand. 

  • Will you map single or multiple personas? 
  • Is it a custom buyer persona or an individual user?
  • Do you do general mapping or solve a specific task?
  • What output do you expect from the workshop? 

Step 2: Capture the Outside World

Before the active brainstorming part, every workshop participant should refresh their basic knowledge of the user persona. So you should prepare the research information you have gathered, such as surveys, interviews, and case studies. At the beginning of the workshop, everybody should go through the research data individually.    

Step 3: Explore Inside the Mind

When your team has finished reading and starts wondering what those four squares on the whiteboard are about, the facilitator helps to unpack the team's creativity with the broad question. For example, `Why would someone use our SaaS?’. 

Now it's the time for participants to fill in sticky notes with their ideas of what the user thinks, says, or does and add them to the corresponding quadrants of the empathy map.  

The next step is to go through the stickies on the board together, vocalize them and group the similar notes into clusters. Team members analyze the quotes during this activity and glue their own comprehension. 

Step 4: Summarize and Share

Reflection is the final step in creating the empathy map. Discuss if anyone’s opinions have changed. Were there any surprises? Were the answers nudged more by research data or gut feeling? What topics appear only in one quadrant? What aspects of your persona do you want to investigate deeper? Do you see any new design solutions for this user?   

What is the outcome? A long-term reminder for the whole team if you hang the paper in the office, or redesign it into a poster, or share it in the corporate drive. 

When we compare empathy mapping vs persona of the buyer, the former seems less accurate and detailed. The advantage of an empathy map is its flexibility and easiness. And it indeed drives everyone's attention to a user and helps the team establish a shared vision while producing a common product.   

Tips For An Effective Empathy Mapping Session

Every persona empathy mapping workshop differs from the one you have conducted before. The task and people change, something goes differently than you expected, and you might need more than one scenario to run a productive session. Here are some tips to add to your flexibility. 

Rephrasing

Sometimes people get stuck at the very beginning of the workshop. In this case, try to widen the question and show the everyday circumstances of the user persona.

  • In what places does the persona use your product?
  • Is it easy or hard for them?
  • What are their usual routines outside of using the product?
  • What might be their hobbies and places to rest?  

Roleplay

Another way to liven up your session is role-playing. Describe your user as a play character: give him a name, age, profession, and family status. Let one person represent the user, and others ask questions or speak for the product. 

Modeling Situations

Describe an extreme situation that highlights the pain points of the user. For example, put them into a plane crash or a dentist's chair. What will he say, feel and do? This approach might awaken the teams' interest and compassion. 

Practice

One of the main advantages of persona empathy mapping is its velocity and convenience. They needn`t be perfect or exquisitely thorough. The common workshop experience is what matters. After practicing the empathy mapping tool with 5-7 user personas, you will pull out vital insights. 

Adapting Format

Empathy maps could be better. For example, you noticed an overlap between what our users see and hear. When you think about how to use persona empathy mapping, try editing templates for your circumstances and query. 

Also, if you find it unreal to gather the team offline, use online resources like Miro boards to conduct a workshop.  

Advantages Of Persona Empathy Mapping For Product Development

Empathy maps are a tried-and-true tool that helps the whole team understand the user.  If we sum up the main benefits of the mapping session, the list will include the following:

  • great collaborative experience
  • team’s common understanding of the user
  • deep insights into users’ behaviors
  • visualization of user needs to non-designers and stakeholders
  • diverse tasks and situations to resolve 
  • resulting empathy map, which is easy to read and apply in routine workflow
  • powerful impact on product strategy, design, content, and other development processes  
  • unfolded weakness in research
  • guideline to significant innovations

Arounda agency has been developing UX/UI design for startups and SMEs from scratch for more than five years now. In the discovery stage, we guide our clients to validate the idea, clarify the concept, create roadmaps and empathize with their buyer persona.

If you want to know how to keep your user engaged and loyal, just drop us a line!

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