How should the product designer empathize with the user? How should it recognize the real needs of the user or users? What questions should he ask himself? How to make sure that the product will solve the real needs and problems of the user?

Product design starts with empathic design. The product designer must know the user properly for empathetic design. Believe me, knowing the user as well as empathic design is not an easy task. Some people are hard to know. Some others don’t know themselves. What if they let someone else know them! For this reason, in product design and user experience, all kinds of research and tools are used to ensure a deep and correct understanding of the user.

One of the most important tools for this work is a map called Empathy Design. The product designer and the UX designer answer the questions that started this article by creating an empathy map. What is an empathy map? Why is it important to prepare an empathy map in the product design process? And how should it be designed? You will read the answers in the rest of this article.

What is the empathy map in UI/UX design?

First of all, I need to clarify something and answer an important question about the empathy map. Because if you search for the empathy map in Google, you will also find the term customer empathy map. So, first you have to find the answer to the question whether the empathy map is a tool to know and empathize with the user in product design or a tool to know the customer persona and empathize with him in marketing? Or maybe both?

For digital marketing, businesses and digital marketers need to know their customers, the target group, which is the part of the market that is most likely and willing to buy the product. It means to understand to whom they should deliver their message with what characteristics and characteristics. To achieve that goal, they took help from took-oriented marketing.

Product design is also human-centered. Basically, for the first time, a person named Dave Gray and his team designed the empathy map as a human-centered design tool and introduced it to other design professionals. The empathy map was very well received. Various versions were prepared from it (empathy map canvas) and finally there were people who took help from it to prepare customer personas. The primary goal of the designers of the first Empathy Map was to help product design and UX design teams to deeply understand and empathize with the user.

So, empathy map and customer persona design in digital marketing are two different things. But designing the empathy map is very helpful to find the user persona and there is no obstacle for the marketing team of a business to using the user empathy map to design the customer persona because of using the empathy map.

“It captures everything a team has in mind about a particular user/audience/customer to build a shared understanding of their needs for the team and help them make decisions.”

Example of empathy map and empathy map canvas

Well, now we know what the empathy map is. What is this form of empathy? And what is the difference between the empathy map and the empathy map canvas? The empathy map displays the user’s statements, thoughts, actions and feelings in front of each other and at the same time. As mentioned, when the prototype below was released years ago, various UX designers and teams used it and made changes to fit the product they wanted to design and build.

Different parts of the empathy map

Let’s take a closer look at the different parts of the empathy map and the empathy map canvas. As it is clear in the pictures, an empathy map has at least 4 main parts. Pay attention that each section should be filled according to the type of product and the interaction of the user with the product. That is, in order to prepare an empathy map, you should do research and use the results and data of UI/UX research. If necessary, you should interview the user, see him interacting with the product, or even ask the user or users to fill in the empathy map directly by themselves.

The main and common parts of empathy map and empathy map canvas

  • The first part is filled with the user’s statements. Preference is given to direct quotes from the user. But there is no obstacle for the UX team or designer to put himself in the place of the user and make guesses about it. So, whatever the user said or might say about the product or interaction with it is related to the Says section of the map and the 4th section of the canvas (What do they say)? For example, imagine the product is a project management website (software) like Trello or Click Up. Users might say something like this: “My all-time choice is Trello.” or “What ugly colors!”
  • The second section on the map is Thinks, and the fourth section is Feels. These two sections are united on the canvas and are related to the 7th section on the canvas, “What do they think and feel?” These sections should be filled with what the user has not said. The user does not say anything when interacting with the product. He thinks things and feels things. The product design team and UX designers need to understand what the user is not saying based on what he says and what he does. When the user says that Trello is always my choice, it can be concluded that he feels satisfied with the interaction with the product. When the user says that the colors are ugly, it means that he does not understand things when interacting with the product, and as a result, he feels ignorant or low-intelligent!
  • The third part of the map, Does, and the fifth part of the canvas, what do they do, are related to all the things that the user does when interacting with the product. Which user tasks and actions to fill in in this section depends on what the product is and at what stage of design it is. Maybe the team needs to consider and see all the things that the user does in a working day. Perhaps observing him while interacting with the product is enough.

Added parts to Empathy map canvas

As seen in the Empathy Map canvas, that canvas has a few extra parts: the user’s goal, what they saw, and what they heard. These items were added to the empathy map to provide more information about the user and to get to know him and empathize with him. In the first and second part, it should be specified who the user is, in what situation and for what reasons he needs the product (what goal or goals he want to achieve wants interacting with the product). The third and sixth parts are filled with information that the user hears and sees and may affect his behavior and decisions.

The importance of empathy canvas in product design

Why is the empathy map or empathy map canvas important for each person involved in the product design and production process? Because the map of empathy

  • It collects the results obtained from research in UX classified in one place. So, the product design team can see at a glance if they have enough information to know the user and his needs. If the answer is negative, the team knows by looking at the map which field should be researched more and with what method it is better to conduct research.
  • The empathy map puts an almost complete picture of the end user of the product or user persona in front of the eyes of the whole team. So, everyone knows exactly for whom and why they are designing and producing a product.
  • The empathy map provides the product design team with first-hand information from the user and the feelings and thoughts that he does not want to express, and this causes a better product to be designed and made.

“Visualizing user attitudes and behaviors in an empathy map helps UX teams align on a deep understanding of end users. The mapping process also reveals any holes in existing user data.”

4 stages of preparing an empathy map

How to fill an empathy map or empathy map canvas? What questions should the product design, user experience design or even digital marketing team answer or ask the user or users to answer? Should an empathy map be designed for each product user or not? In reference sites in the field of design (such as, almost similar steps are mentioned for preparing an empathy map. In the following, the steps given in most sources for designing and completing an empathy map are explained.

1. The first step is to determine the purpose of designing the empathy map and whether it is individual or collective.

In the first step, two important questions should be answered: why does a product designer, or a UX designer, or a digital marketer, or a team want to design and complete an empathy map or empathy map canvas? Is the empathy map individual or collective (several users together)? As mentioned, a team may want to design and complete a customer persona empathy map. Perhaps an empathy map is drawn by a designer to depict the results of an interview with a user. Maybe a big business like Apple wants to design a canvas of empathy for the design of its new smart watch.

So, the type of project determines the answers to the questions in the first stage. If the marketing team is looking to find customer personas, they need a collective empathy map (target group). The smartwatch design team may decide to design empathy maps for several individual users and then turn them into an empathy map canvas.

2. The second step is to involve all team members in research and data collection.

If the empathy map is prepared so that all the people of a team reach a common understanding of the user’s needs, characteristics and behaviors and empathize with him, all the team members should participate in the process of preparing the empathy map. The results obtained from any research conducted about the user or users should be available to everyone so that each person can analyze the results. Some team members may want to interview a user or research a topic further. For example, the user interface designer may consider it necessary to see and measure users’ opinions and reactions to the visual hierarchy. Finally, each team member should fill in the 4 sections of the empathy map based on the results of their own research and understanding.

3. The third step is to complete the map according to the opinions of all the team.

The empathy map is completed like a puzzle. It means that a map of empathy is drawn on a big board. Team members are asked to post their comments for each section, which they wrote on a sticky note on the board. Once the board is complete, it’s time for team members to discuss their choices and find common ground. For example, if the team is 12 people, 10 sticky notes with the text “Why is everything so confusing in this environment?!!!!” are pasted in the section of feelings and 2 are pasted in the sections about feelings and thoughts. Well, now the team has to decide what to do. Of course, there is no obstacle in which an item (the user’s thought or feeling) can be placed in more than one section, if necessary.

4. The fourth step is to review and modify the empathy map.

When the discussions are over and the empathy map is completed according to the opinions of all team members. The work is not over yet. The plan may need other details and parts, such as the goal or objectives. It may be necessary to add a new section to the map that is neither in the empathy map nor in the empathy map canvas. A complete picture of the user or users may not yet be formed in the team’s mind. Maybe one part, like the user’s thoughts, still has work to do. So, the empathy map is not something that can be prepared once and for all.


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