"I feel for you.": Understanding the power of Empathy Maps


Empathy Map: A UX method to gain direct insight into a user's or user segment's day to day experience. An Empathy Map is a direct contributor to the development to a complete and accurate Persona.

That being said, the illustration at the left illustrates that the user/users are at the center of this method. When you perform this task, it is really key to glean this feedback directly from your users.

NEVER: As with all tools/methods, it is easy to "Do it wrong." What I mean when I say that is perfectly illustrated by a former cross-functional team's implementation of this technique. They co-located for a Design Thinking workshop for their product redesign kickoff for a week. They all were incredibly intelligent industry and product professionals. How can they not be successful?!

And I mean this with no disrespect: "You're doing it wrong."

There were UXers, Designers, Product Managers, Developers, Managers, Writers, Front-End Designers, Visual Designers, SMEs, and even a VP and Director in the mix.

Success was imminent. Or was it? Not once did I mention users. Now, to their credit, Product Managers were present, and, in enterprise software, at times the greater team can be intentionally insulated from the user (politics, agreements, etc), however the Product Manager does have direct customer-facing interactions. Is that good enough? Nope, but it is better than designing cold, based on assumptions.

You see where I am going with this, right?

The team was moderately successful, but the warning here is that everything to come is based on this foundational work. Extrapolate a slightly incorrect assumption and it could grow into a completely off-the-mark UI. Think of a wedge. One end is a point, the other a greater angle from that point. It is extremely easy, based on misconceptions, to fail. While iterative and faithful user-validation can catch many misconceptions in early UX wire reviews, sometimes things still fall through the cracks, and with enterprise software, if back-end services start to iterate on somewhat incorrect assumptions, you may not get all the key data to surface to the users, and the UI can go very askew in a very short amount of time.

Another dimension of this, is that the Product Manager may not ask the right questions. While each stakeholder does have the holistic product in mind, which is great, they do not have the expertise of the other cross-team members, and may not ask the right questions needed to get the correct and focused feedback to make foundational stakes in the ground. Nor should they. It is really key to engage UX and Design at inception to be able to ensure the success of the product.

Let's circle back, let's talk about the 4 facets of the Empathy Map.

Caveat: When you do enough of these, all 4 facets will likely have both commonalities and direct conflicts between them. These are your sweet spots. You may even want to pick one topic and do a drill-down empathy map on a few of the singular comments in order you understand it fully.

BEST PRACTICE: Document each phase in order to be able to regress back to any stage for repeated validation as your team develops the product. Admittedly, this is also a CYA action, because we have all been there. If you can immediately point to the origin of a design directly from a user, you have the best and most undeniable case for everything you create.

  1. Say: What does the user say about their job? (holistic, open-ended, any context)

  2. Feel: As the user performs their job, what are they feeling about their software, processes, team, stress points, pain points, performance, successes, etc.?

  3. Think: As a user performs their job, what is the user thinking as they both perform tasks, and interact with their team and managers?

  4. Do: As the user performs their job, what are the actual steps and processes they perform? Look closely for process re-engineering opportunities for those systems and processes you will be connecting with, and frequently you can find ways to integrate in a much more efficient way, even though you may not touch other applications or data sources in their process.

Once you have populated your Empathy Map, you can now start to group like comments in order to start to see the patterns in different issues. Note, do not cross facet lines yet, limit this still to each quarter.

In those groupings, start to condense it down to a common statement or word that applies to all comments in that group.

For example: If you have 3 direct quotes, undeniably, addressing complicated/convoluted/insufficient/procedures about data export processes, you group them, say, into Data Export Pain Point. When you start on that element, you have the robust comments under this with which to start, and drill down with your users as you design.

Rinse and repeat. Very quickly you will be given your foundation to build upon.

Apropos of nothing, or everything: ". . .42."

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