Empathy Map – Understand Your Users with Design Thinking

By | October 13, 2021

Management at virtually every company thinks they know what their customers really want and need. Why wouldn’t they? Brands spend millions of dollars to gather data about consumer trends and market conditions. Unfortunately, these assumptions are often wrong because they ignore emotional drivers. In other words, they don’t have an empathy map.

As a result, companies may give customers what they don’t want, or they fail to give them what they do want.

An empathy map can help you avoid these mistakes. It delivers insight into what makes your end users tick and how to provide them with a superior customer experience.

Read on to learn what an empathy map is, why it matters, and how to create one in your own company.

What is an empathy map?

Empathy Map


An empathy map is a design thinking tool that helps marketers and product managers understand a user’s behavior. Empathy maps are a visualization of your audience’s emotional state at key moments which informs the user experience design process (UX design).

Dave Gray, founder of Xplane, first introduced the concept of empathy maps to improve customer experience and design better work environments. Since then, the methodology has been adopted by the agile community, customer teams, marketing departments, and product managers.

Within an empathy map canvas, there are four quadrants, with each giving you deeper insights into who your customers are and how you can best connect with them.

Empathy map quadrants

  • See – Who and what your customers see each day
  • Hear – The messages, media, and people that influence your customers
  • Think and feel Thoughts, emotions, desires, aspirations, and fears that drive your customers
  • Say and do – How your customers respond to various settings and situations

In addition to the four quadrants, empathy maps often contain two additional boxes for the customer’s pains and gains. These capture the frustrations and pain points they regularly encounter, as well as what they need to achieve success.

Why and when to create an empathy map?

Close photo of a woman's face looking directly into the camera to show empathy

Thought leaders like Simon Sinek suggest that people are most likely to buy from brands they share a connection with. So, when you know your customer, you can create more effective marketing, forge stronger brand loyalty, and provide a better user experience at each stage of the customer journey.

Your team should build empathy maps to gain a better understanding of your user and your broader target audience.

These insights will improve your customer journey mapping process and help you define a stronger value proposition. It also enables you to design more effective marketing campaigns, product development strategies, sales pitches, and overall business strategy. In addition, this type of emotional UX research reveals opportunities to improve existing services and develop new ones.

Ultimately, empathy map exercises help you see things through your customers’ eyes.

Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” However, you can’t show people what they want unless you first understand what motivates them. 

When to create a customer empathy map

  • Launching a new business
  • Launching a new product or product line
  • Expanding into a new market
  • Targeting a new demographic
  • Developing a new marketing campaign
  • Adding new features to a product
  • Changing business ******

Ultimately, they are valuable tools anytime you need new insight into your target audience. Furthermore, using a customer empathy map template enables consistency across your enterprise for different audiences.

It can help you avoid making decisions that negatively affect your customers, for example. In addition, it can be your blueprint for providing a superior customer experience every step of the way.

Empathy map design thinking also creates unity and clarity among team members regarding both problems and opportunities. It’s easier to align with other members when presented with actual customer data rather than competing subjective opinions.

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Empathy map vs persona

Although the lines are sometimes blurry, an empathy map is like a detailed subsection of a buyer persona. A persona includes a broad spectrum of data, such as demographics, psychographics, behaviors, attitudes, values, motivations, interests, goals, and problems (or pain points).

Persona empathy mapping exercises narrow the focus specifically to the customer’s perspective — what they think, say, feel, hear, and do. They should also be based on actual user research and customer data. In other words, try to avoid making educated inferences, which often shape user personas.

At a high level, you could say that persona examples help you understand who your customers are, while an empathy map helps you understand what motivates them.

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