Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes – to understand their feeling, motivations, views and, therefore, why they act the way that they do. It is an extremely useful skill for the user experience researcher to acquire as it makes constructing research projects and frameworks a lot easier if you have a user profile with this sort of detail and depth of understanding.
So what, you might ask, is empathy mapping exactly and how and when might you use it?
An empathy map is a profile built up around a single user or user persona which attempts to get inside their head; specifically it should look at:
- What they think
- What they say
- What they feel &
- What they do
The objective should be to create a common and detailed understanding of the persona’s characteristics to help in making decisions for the business about what they want and how they are likely to respond to and use specific offerings you might make.
How to Create an Empathy Map
Well the process is best conducted by a group rather than individual as this is most likely to provide the best rounded, most multi-faceted and rich persona. It also enables members to spark off each other and develop ideas and trains of thought in more depth and from multiple perspectives. The best way to proceed is to gather and disseminate all the available data and attributes about the persona in question so the participants can familiarise and immerse themselves in the persona beforehand. This gives them the opportunity to react, respond and interact in informed and natural ways during the process.
The actual activity itself can consist of constructing a diagram with the user at the centre and the four quadrants clustered around them; then specific elements of each quadrant can be appended via, eg yellow stickers to build up a picture of the individual and their beliefs, actions, behaviours, ideas etc. When you are looking at what they say and what they do, these should be drawn from actual instances via research or observation so they are an accurate, real pictures of behaviour and not conjecture or supposition. What they think and feel are not so obvious and easy, though certain aspects can be inferred from what they say and do but here some of what the participants have absorbed as traits of the subject can come into play and, hopefully, insight develops and provides new perspective.
When this activity is complete you can begin to synthesise and amalgamate the information to produce a broad pen picture. You might, and probably will, find some contradictory elements and this is where the empathy and understanding impact most to make sense of these and contextualise them within a complex human fabric that can provide valuable pointers as to future wants and actions. When you have completely absorbed and regenerated the data you can then use the fabricated persona to communicate ideas or proposals to management and colleagues or to gain product development insights and direction for the enhancement of future user experience with your organisation and products.
Whatever your reasons for needing user persona, you will find empathy mapping invaluable in the process. If you would like to know more about the technique, why not give us a ring on +44(0)800 024624 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org