An empathy map can be considered as a cross between an affinity diagram and user persona.

Similar to an affinity diagram you write insights onto Post-it notes and place them where you think they most belong. And like with a user persona, an empathy map helps you better empathize with your users, so you can better understand them and design a great user experience.

How to Create an Empathy Map

The Standard Process

You review your research data, write one insight per Post-it note and place it into any one of the quadrants you deem most relevant.

A standard empathy map consists of four quadrants: Says, Thinks, Feels, Does.

  • Says: What a user audibly says. Direct quotes and key words are stated
  • Thinks: Consider a user’s motivations, goals, needs and desires. You may need to dig deeper and also pay particular attention to what a user may think but is unwilling to vocalize
  • Feels: The emotions a user feels. Identifiable from body language, word choice and tone of voice
  • Does: Actions and behaviors that a user displays

If you google the term empathy map, you’ll probably see something that looks like this.

Empathy Map Diagram

A Better Way

The theory behind an empathy map is sound and makes sense. But in reality, the insights you obtain from your research don’t always fit neatly into the typical quadrants.

It’s therefore a good idea to revise the quadrants so you can better hone in on areas so you can better solve your users problems and meet their goals.

The process of researching your data, writing one insight per Post-it note and placing it in the most appropriate quadrant remains the same, but the names of the quadrants themselves change.

A better empathy map could therefore include:

  • Mismatched mental models: A user has an idea of how they think something works. This is called a mental model. When a user’s mental model and your design model clash it frustrates them and the user experience suffers
  • Pain Points: Great design means a UX that flows as smoothly as possible. Anything that interrupts that flow and gets in the way of a user achieving their goals is a pain point
  • Goals: Usually, users not only have an overarching goal but also secondary and tertiary goals. These may differ according to time and circumstance
  • Points of confusion: Some aspects of software and its interface, especially if we’re talking about a complex application, may confuse users. This again interrupts the flow of the UX as they are forced to find a solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist
  • Benefits: No user will spend the valuable currency of time or money on something that doesn’t benefit them in some way, particularly when there are likely to be many other alternatives just a click away. Therefore, aim to understand what draws a user to the software in the first place

As you begin to address each of these categories and focus on what really matters, you are in a much better position to design a great user experience.

Don’t think that you have to limit yourself to just these categories either (or even necessarily include all of them). Whatever category you think makes sense for the project at hand and aids in better empathizing and designing a better experience for a user can be added.

It’s now easy to see how the generic quadrants of Says, Thanks, Feels and Does might no longer cut it.