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Empathy Map: A Tool to Uncover What REALLY Matters

Empathy is the key trait that helps us keep people at the center of everything we do. However, people are complex, and that makes it impossible to empathize at scale. Empathetic frameworks help navigate that complexity.

The focus on people-centricity began to scale in organizations about 10 years ago. Academic frameworks of people-based research seeped into the business world. It started with teams identifying people that mattered to them, i.e., customers, stakeholders, employees, and then classifying them into personas based on numerous factors such as demography, authority, interests, magazine subscriptions, and communities.

As personas became mainstream, a lot of teams skipped the process of research (also did not adjust for the evolution of persona frameworks in the academic world) and jumped into solutions based on defined personas.

Somewhere down the line, these personas stopped being empathetic. Personas are now often created using the lens of the organizational solution. THAT is a loophole many tend to oversee.

 When we look at people from the lens of an existing solution, we overlook many other factors that matter to them. Beyond that, grouping them into generalized cohorts leads us to an assumption that one-size-fits-most.

Outcome: Blind spots and lost value.

Here is where empathy maps play an important role.

Empathy maps help us think about people more deeply before thinking of a solution. They help us make the solution more relevant to the people instead of force-fit solutions into people’s needs.

These maps account for the complexity in people behaviour and bring out thematic representations of the customer. They remove bias, uncovers pain points and reveals customer needs that guide you towards innovation.

How to use Empathy maps:


As we begin designing for people, we need to think of the ‘’purpose” we are designing for. Purpose is basically what the person wants to achieve (regardless of any solution). It could be a broad purpose like ‘’Donate to charity” OR a specific purpose “Compare charities”.

As I take you through the process, I am going to create an Empathy Map for a Dog whose purpose is to ‘’Alert the owner about a snake in the room”


The best way to understand people’s need is by meeting them to understand what matters. Some examples

  • You can observe them and identify specific behaviours that are driven by needs. For example: A dog frantically looking for objects to startle his owner
  • You can hear them to uncover what matters. For example: A dog’s barks and response to cues.
  • You can immerse yourself in their experience to understand what might drive that behaviour. For example: Try to put yourself in a situation where you see a snake but do not have a way to alert the owner. 

Tip: Every dog might have different ways to address the situation, we cannot go researching every dog. It is best to choose situations where you can see diverse reactions. For example, a dog that gets scared, a dog that takes initiative to handle the situation, a therapy dog. Choose extreme situations where you can see distinct behaviors that cannot be generalized. It is these distinct behaviours that reveal the deepest of needs.


Empathy Maps capture 4 key attributes that reveal people’s needs. What people are saying, doing, thinking, and feeling. It is way to get inside their head and uncover what matters.

First, consider what is being said.

Gather useful information from interviews, phone calls, and other verbal cues. In the context of the dog, its difficult to know what is being said, some cues can help.   

Next focus on what they do.

Map out the actions they take and the behaviors they display. For example, Frantic running by the dog, creating a lot of noise and mess around the room, etc.

Then focus on what they think.

A lot of what they think comes out in the interviews. Digging deep into the inner thinking can uncover where the needs are coming from.

And lastly, focus on what they feel.

Finally, put yourself in their shoes and feel what they may feel. The answer general comes in adjective form. In our example of the dog, it could be fear, anxiety, worry, or courage.

Empathy Maps often also have other elements such as ‘’hear’’ or they have clubbed aspects such as ‘’think and feel’’. While I have introduced the most basic version – you can use the extended templates as well. They help us gather as much info as we can before synthesis.


Now that you have mapped what they think/feel/do/say – it’s time to synthesize the information into ‘pain points’ and ‘gain points’. Pain points are the fears, frustrations, and challenges. Gain points are their wants, desires, and needs.


This map is a critical tool to help center the team around the purpose and needs. Sharing this information with everyone working on the project can help them take timely/informed decisions. Keep iterating on the map based on learnings/feedbacks. A bonus is to call for reflections – ask them how it changed their perspective and continue to uncover new insights.

When should we use empathy maps? 

Empathy maps are powerful in informing project direction and keeping everyone centered on their audience. They are best used at the beginning of a project. In the example used in this blog, you might already be coming up with ideas on how to solve the dog’s need. Remember you don’t need to solve for all needs but the ones that seem the most important to your objective.

They also highlight the gaps in knowledge during the project, so if you see something missing you can step out and do the required research.

This tool can also be used in regular engagements. We all have stakeholders that we work with – creating an empathy map for our stakeholders can help boost engagement and collaboration

The first step to innovation is empathy and empathy maps serve as great tools to navigate your way into the minds of the people that matter.
Have you been using these maps? Share thoughts/comments so we could uncover more ways to drive value

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