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GuidesUser experience (UX)Empathy mapping 101: Create experiences users love

Empathy mapping 101: Create experiences users love

Last updated

31 January 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Tanya Williams

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How well do you know the people buying your product? If it's anything short of as much as possible, you may want to consider all your options.

In today's market, 66% of consumers don't just want companies to understand and anticipate their needs—they expect it. Moreover, 52% count on you delivering personalized products and offers to accommodate their wants and needs. This highlights a major need for a deeper understanding of your customer base. But how is that even possible?

An empathy map.

While designers can use dozens of techniques to make products commercially successful, empathy mapping tops the cake. In fact, it's often the very first step in design thinking.

Here's what you need to know.

What is empathy mapping?

A customer empathy map is a user experience (UX) tool that aims to achieve deeper insights into the minds of your ideal customers. Through one or more customer personas, your team divides your target audience into relevant user segments. Here, they can pinpoint thoughts and feelings that allow them to empathize with real users in the design process.

Unconscious biases plague UX, so a technique like empathy mapping is vital. It pushes beyond what you and your team think will be commercially valuable by empathizing with the real people who buy your product. 

Why are empathy maps important?

Empathy mapping helps your business in many ways. It allows you to turn data into valuable insights, get into the minds of your target users, and use that information to visualize customer needs. When done right, the benefits of empathy mapping include the following:

ROI (return on investment)

More than 80% of consumers prefer brands that show how well they understand them. There's no better way to do this than taking the time to understand each customer segment so you can empathize with their needs. More importantly, you should use that information to meet or exceed their expectations in the design process.

Customer experience and retention

These elements go hand in hand. Research shows that 75% of customers are more loyal to brands that understand them on a deeper level, and 73% cite customer experience as a key factor in their brand loyalty decisions. 

Empathy mapping significantly improves customer experience by taking what you've learned about your ideal customers, detailing that insight to user personas and mapping process, and applying it to every aspect of your product development.

Product designs and success

The most daunting thing about any idea, prototype, or existing product is the chance that users won't like, need, or want it. When product teams use targeting techniques like empathy mapping, these powerful visualization tools detail knowledge about customers at each stage of the user journey. Using these tools correctly will improve customer experiences with your product designs. The result? More successful products and launches.

What is the difference between an empathy map and a persona?

Although user personas play a role in the success of your empathy mapping session, the terms differ.

A customer persona is a fictional user you create to represent a group of real users who buy your products. Each company often has several to represent different user types and their corresponding consumer traits and behaviors. 

A common persona in UX research is a qualitative persona: A profile based on the results of qualitative research methods such as user interviews, qualitative surveys, usability tests, and field studies. During research, you’ll want to ascertain certain information about segment users, such as:

  • User characteristics

  • Demographics

  • Geographics

  • Psychographics

Personas are at the center of your empathy mapping, with typically one persona per empathy map. Using the information you've gathered, you expand what you know about your personas in your maps by detailing what they would say, do, think, and feel. 

So, while the two are correlated, the creation process and purposes are different. Personas bring your ideal customers to life, while empathy mapping allows you to visualize your personas in an empathetic way. Still, they’re both key to a successful user-centered design and essential for reaching and resonating with users.

The basics of running a successful empathy mapping session

Running a successful empathy mapping session requires a lot of time and effort to perfect. As a representation of your end users, it must be as accurate and detailed as possible to add value to your product development and design. To improve the quality of your session, here are our top tips for success.

Conduct and review your research first

Before you begin mapping, finalize and review your initial research. Empathy mapping requires a great deal of insight into your customers to complete. As a result, you'll need accurate data to inform mapping decisions and fill in each quadrant for your personas. You may conduct additional research throughout the project.

The initial UX research that will benefit your mapping session often includes methods like:

  • Surveys

  • Interviews

  • Listening sessions

  • Field and diary studies

Detail and define your goals

Well-thought-out and defined goals make any endeavor 376% more likely to be successful. Empathy mapping is no different, as it allows you to lay out precisely what you hope to achieve with the business model. By extension, it reveals the best methods to achieve those objectives.

Start by determining which users you will include and your purpose for mapping. Do you want to create a shared understanding of users or inform product development and design decisions? Perhaps you want to analyze interview transcripts. Your purpose should inform your goals. 

Review your results

An empathy map session requires multiple team members and their input. That includes their thoughts on what you should consider adding to the map and why. To ensure you're getting the best insight into your personas, we recommend:

  • Having every team member bring their customer data to the session

  • Using data insights to inform your mapping decisions

  • Discussing results and reasoning with other team members

Use agreed-upon inputs with insights from each team member map to review and make your final edits for the finalized version of your empathy map.

It’s important to center this process around teamwork and collaboration. Research shows that prioritizing collaboration increases product development by 30%, product quality by 34%, and customer satisfaction ratings by 41%.


What's the difference between one-user and multiple-user mapping?

When creating your empathy map, you have two options: One user or multiple users. One-user empathy maps are based on an individual user. In contrast, multiple-user empathy maps represent a user segment, which is a group of end users with similar traits and characteristics.

What are the five elements of empathy mapping?

A typical empathy map template has four quadrants. These empathy map quadrants include categories such as says, thinks, does, and feels. At the very center of your map is your user persona, which will influence your answers to each quadrant. Together, your persona and four quadrants make up the five elements of empathy maps.

What should an empathy map include?

Other than the basic structure with the five elements, empathy maps should include:

  • Direct customer quotes from research that adds insight into the user's internal experience with your brand and product. This will go in the 'says' quadrant. 

  • What the user 'does' in your research (i.e., sketches and pictures of specific behaviors)

  • What the user 'thinks' in your research, including goals, motivations, needs, and wants. Include what this can mean for your product and its design. 

  • Details of how your user 'feels' by evaluating their body language, tone of voice, and word choices

When should you use empathy maps?

Develop your maps at the beginning of your product design process. This will be after gathering all your initial research data and turning it into valuable insights before the product requirements phase. This will allow you to use your research to inform your mapping and use your mapping to inform the product you're building or re-evaluating.

How many empathy maps should you create?

This will vary from company to company. However, experts recommend one user per empathy map. So, create as many maps as you have personas.

How can an empathy map be created?

Another aspect of mapping that can vary is the creation process. However, the basics of empathy mapping sessions include:

  • A group of qualified team members

  • Each team member supplying all the research and data they have access to

  • Passing out empathy map sketches on a piece of paper to each employee

  • Providing sticky notes and markers for everyone to add their insights to their maps

  • Ample time for everyone to complete their maps as thoroughly as possible

  • Additional time to review and discuss each team member's contribution and decisions 

  • Creating one optimized empathy map using everyone's maps

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User experience (UX)Product developmentMarket researchPatient experienceCustomer researchSurveysResearch methodsEmployee experience

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