User eXperience

Empathy maps and How to build them

At the center of user experience design is the need to make interfaces that resonate with the user's needs, emotions and motivations. And UX designers are tasked with making this magic happen.

How? They make use of tools and techniques that can help them appreciate how the user thinks, feels and acts.

Empathy maps are a powerful tool in the cabinet of every experienced user experience designer because understanding your target audience is key to creating successful products.

Do you need to gain a deeper understanding of your target audience's needs, challenges, goals, and motivations? Then read on. In this article, we will take a closer look at empathy maps, their benefits to you as a UX designer and how to build them.

What exactly are empathy maps?

Empathy maps are a simple yet powerful visual representation of the thought process and behaviours of a user persona. It includes how they think, what they say and how they act. They help to develop a comprehensive view of the persona and their unique experiences.

UX designers create these "maps" to best understand the target users and align useful solutions with them. Empathy maps are one of the tools designers make in the empathise phase of the popular design thinking framework.

It's important to note that, while creating an empathy map, every piece of information included in the map for a user persona should be backed by data that you obtain from real user research.

What are the key elements of an empathy map?

Empathy maps are diagrams made up of four quadrants, each representing a crucial aspect of behaviour the target user demonstrates in research.

Example of Empathy map - By NNG group
Empathy Map by NN/g

Creating empathy maps is about considering what the user:

  • Feels: by observing subtle body language, tone of voice, etc, how do you think the user feels? What emotions does an experience bring them?
    E.g, you could observe that:
  • The user feels impatient because the pages load slowly.
  • The user feels confused because there are too many CTAs on the homepage.
  • Says: note what the user says during interviews, and put down every statement or question they ask verbatim. This can help you understand them better.  
  • Thinks: from your observations and knowledge of the user, how do you think they feel? What might be their motivations and beliefs? Think can share the same content as the Say quadrant because users often express what they think verbally. However, it's important to observe them closely to understand even feelings they are unable to express.
  • Does: observe and write down noticeable actions of the user during the interview. As the user interacts with the product how do they go about it?
  • The user swipes left instead of right.
  • The user uses the back arrow instead of the button at the bottom of the page.

Importance of Empathy Maps in Product design

Wondering why you need to make empathy maps? Here are some benefits you shouldn't overlook:

  • Improved Understanding of the Target Audience: Empathy mapping for UX design helps designers to better empathise with the target users and to gain a deeper understanding of their challenges.
  • Creation of More User-Friendly Products: with a deeper understanding of users comes the ability to make more user-focused and enjoyable experiences for them. When you know what people like it's easier to make likable products.
  • Increased Customer Satisfaction: an empathy-driven brand that understands its users thoroughly has a better chance of making products that satisfy their needs. Also, they can better relate with customers who have enquiries to make through a well organised customer service.
  • More successful products: the end product of customer satisfaction is usually a commercially successful product. This means more income and guaranteed growth. This is a good reason brands strive to incorporate user experience best practices and techniques in product development.

Building Empathy Maps: how to create an empathy map in 6 steps

The empathy mapping process is a step-by-step procedure on how to create empathy maps that truly represent your target users, below are crucial steps:

  1. Identify the Target Audience: the first step is to find out who needs your product. Making a product that has no place in the market is a great way to waste time and resources. Find out what people need and then think about how to make them.
  2. Understand their Needs and Challenges: after identifying a gap to fill, it's important to develop a sound understanding of the needs of that target audience. Why do they have these needs? Are they even aware that they do? Questions that help you see things the way they do should form the basis for your research.
  3. Gather Information and Create Personas: with initial research complete, the next thing is to make user personas. user personas are semi-fictional characters that user experience designers use in representing a user group. Making a user persona is a very important task every designer needs to learn.
  4. Identify their Goals and Motivations: two crucial sections of your user persona are the Goals and Objectives. Using information from your research—this cannot be overemphasized, as made-up or overly biased data defeat the entire purpose— identify the goals and motivations of your user persona.
  5. Create the Empathy Map: with a user persona in place, the final step is to create the empathy map itself. Creating an empathy map simply involves filling the quadrants with observations from your research.

Tips for Building Effective Empathy Maps

Below are a few tips for making better empathy maps:

  • You can use visual elements to improve clarity: empathy maps are usually presented to stakeholders in the design process, and using visual elements can make them clearer to whoever needs to see them.
  • Collaborate with team members to gain a wider perspective: collaboration is very essential in the design process. As a user experience designer, you can collaborate with team members to research and brainstorm better ideas. This can lead to gaining a wider perspective of your target audience and their problems.
  • Conduct user research to gain insights: the most crucial aspect of the early stages of the design process is user research. To create authentic empathy maps, you must conduct productive research to obtain insights that your design will address. The user persona that the empathy map depends on must be a representation of objective data.


In conclusion, empathy maps are a powerful tool for product development. Empathy mapping for UX design helps you better understand your target audience, leading to more user-friendly products and increased customer satisfaction. As a product developer, building effective empathy maps should be a priority in your product development process. Empathy maps can lead to better products and happier customers with the right approach.