How to use empathy mapping for design thinking

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
 and 
  —  
January 13, 2023
An image of people collaborating on a project around a desk in an office

Empathy mapping is a tool used to help visualize the thoughts, feelings, and actions of customers or users. It can help to give a better understanding of the customer experience and can be used to identify potential areas of improvement. By organizing customer feedback in an empathy map, teams can easily identify patterns, commonalities, and areas of opportunity.

Empathy mapping can be used in a variety of different design thinking processes, such as user research, ideation, and prototyping.

In this guide, we’ll cover what is meant by empathy mapping, why it’s important, and how to create an empathy map that not only builds better understanding, but also delivers actionable insights.

What is an empathy map?

An empathy map is a visual representation of a customer’s thoughts, feelings, actions, and observations. It is divided into four quadrants: Thoughts, Feelings, Actions, and Observations. Each quadrant is used to capture different aspects of the customer experience.

  • Thoughts capture the customer’s internal dialogue and beliefs
  • Feelings capture their emotional responses
  • Actions capture their actions and behaviors
  • Observations capture what the customer is seeing and hearing

Through the exercise of filling out an empathy map, teams can gain a better understanding of the customer experience, identify areas of improvement, and build empathy for user pain points.

Why is empathy mapping important?

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving process used to generate innovative solutions. It begins with understanding the user and empathizing with their needs, and then uses a process of ideation, prototyping, and testing to create a product or service that meets the user’s needs. Design thinking is an iterative process that emphasizes collaboration and experimentation to create the best possible solution for the user.

Creating an empathy map is an effective way for businesses to gain a better understanding of their users and their needs. It can be used to identify areas of improvement, as well as to identify potential opportunities for growth. Empathy mapping helps to create a deeper understanding of the user experience and can be used to build better relationships with customers.

What stakeholders are involved for an empathy mapping session?

An empathy mapping session should involve stakeholders from across the organization, from designers and product managers to marketers and customer service representatives. The goal of an empathy mapping session is to gain a better understanding of the user experience, so it is important to have stakeholders from all areas of the business represented. This way, everyone can contribute their perspectives and insights to the empathy mapping exercise and help to create a more holistic view of the user experience.

How to build an empathy map: A step-by-step guide

Creating an empathy map is a simple process that involves gathering user feedback, organizing it into four quadrants, and then analyzing the data.

To get started, however, it’s important to consider exactly who your customer is — the first step is to leverage a user persona or concrete example so that your empathy map is founded on real-world information and experience.

1. Create a user persona

A user persona is a representation of your target audience. It is created by researching and understanding your customers, their needs, and their behaviors. Creating a user persona helps to ensure that empathy mapping is based on real-world user information and experience.

To create a user persona, start by researching your target audience and gathering customer feedback. Then, use the customer feedback to create a profile of your ideal user. This user persona should include demographic information, as well as their needs, wants, goals, and behaviors. Finally, use this user persona to inform your empathy mapping exercise.

Steps:

  • Research your target audience and gather customer feedback
  • Create a profile of your ideal user, including demographic information and their needs, wants, goals, and behaviors
  • Use the user persona to inform your empathy mapping exercise

Quickly create a user persona for free with Mural's Persona Profile template

The Persona Profile template provides space for three user persona cards. Use these cards to describe each user, their goals, fears, tasks they need to complete, and needs. Sign up with a Mural Free Forever account to get started!

The Mural Persona Profile Template
Kickstart this process by using the Mural Persona Profile template

Note: User research can come in all shapes and sizes, but qualitative research like user interviews or observational studies can provide real data that inform a deeper understanding of a user’s emotional state throughout their journey.

2. Create a diagram of your persona’s experience

Experience diagramming is a process of creating a visual representation of a customer’s journey. By creating an experience diagram, teams can gain a deeper understanding of the customer experience and can identify potential areas of improvement.

To create an experience diagram, start by mapping out the customer journey and identifying touchpoints, then use the user persona to create an empathy map and fill it out with customer feedback. Finally, use the empathy map to analyze the data and identify areas of improvement.

Steps:

  • Based on your user persona, brainstorm with your team to identify all the key touchpoints across their experience
  • Look for places where experiences may overlap or where there are gaps
  • Identify areas of opportunity and improvement
Related: How to create a customer journey map

3. Build an empathy map based on your user persona and their experience

Once you have gathered the necessary customer feedback and created a user persona and experience diagram, you can begin building an empathy map. Start by dividing the map into four quadrants: Thoughts, Feelings, Actions, and Observations. Then, use the customer feedback to fill out each quadrant.

Think about the user’s thoughts, feelings, actions, and observations in relation to the customer journey and touchpoints.

Finally, use the empathy map to analyze the data and identify areas of improvement.

Steps:

  • Divide the map into four quadrants: Thoughts, Feelings, Actions, and Observations
  • Use the customer feedback to fill out each quadrant
  • Think about the user’s thoughts, feelings, actions, and observations in relation to the user journey and touchpoints
  • Analyze the data and identify areas of improvement
Suggestion: Use the Mural Empathy Map Canvas template to gather your ideas and brainstorm

Why empathy matters for your bottom line

Empathy mapping is an important tool for businesses to gain a better understanding of their customers and improve the usability of their products or service. Understanding user needs and wants means that businesses can create more targeted marketing strategies and products that are better suited for their user base.

Also, empathy mapping can help businesses to better empathize with users, leading to more meaningful customer relationships and increased customer loyalty. Ultimately, these deeper relationships can result in increased customer satisfaction and higher profits.

Create a Free Forever account an get started with one of Mural’s free templates, which you can edit and share with unlimited members — making it easy to get every stakeholder involved and engaged.

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About the author

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.