Learning experience design uses human-centered strategies and tools to develop empathy for a target audience or any group you are trying to understand. The empathy map, borrowed from user experience design, is an ideal tool for going deeper into the world of the people in your ecosystem. The concept comes from Dave Gray and his company XPLANE and is part of their human-centered design toolkit. This and other tools are explained in the book Gamestorming.
Goal of the Empathy Map
The empathy map captures and visualizes what a member of your target group might say, think, feel and do in relation to a question or event. The question can be about a situation at work, a learning experience, a process or any aspect of the target group for which you want greater insight. The goal is to improve your understanding and empathy of group members and to synthesize your observations, interviews and other research into a concrete and visual form. In terms of audience analysis, the empathy map complements the work you do to build personas.
Surprisingly, empathy maps can be helpful when you have little data to work with. They are a way to help you identify gaps in your understanding so you can fill in the holes.
Simple, Yet Deep
The simplicity of the empathy map belies the fact that it can reveal significant complexities about being human. For example, upon interviewing audience members, you may find inconsistencies in how people think, feel, speak and act. A person may think one thing, yet to protect their privacy, they say something else. Or a person may do one thing at work to adhere to a policy, but they may think it is not the best approach.
In learning experience design, when we empathize with users, participants and learners, we try to understand these types of complexities and how to best meet the needs of the audience.
Different Types of Empathy Maps
If you search for empathy maps, you will find several different forms. Remember that the purpose is to help you and your team develop empathy for an audience or other group. Here is a modified version of the original map, with the areas as rectangles rather than triangles for ease of writing.
In 2017 Dave Gray updated the map to improve it. The new model includes goals, a sequence for performing the process and Think and Feel are elevated to the focal point. Read more about the updated Empathy Map Canvas on Medium.
How to Use an Empathy Map
- Download the empathy map template with instructions below or make your own. They are simple to create by hand or in a graphic program.
- Just as with a persona, consider sketching a face in the center or inserting a graphic of a face. It helps to think in terms of a real person, even if it is a fictitious one.
- Identify a question, situation or event that you want to understand. Perhaps you want to understand what it’s like to be a new manager in an organization or to evaluate the effectiveness of a new hire orientation.
- Working with a team (or alone if you must), fill in the map using what you know about the persona. In the appropriate area of the map, add what individuals said, in response to your question. Then add what they though, did (actions they performed) and felt. At times, you may need to infer some of these. If you use sticky notes in each area, you can organize, modify and move them around.
- Discuss your findings and write your insights and conclusions on the page too. If you are working alone, see if you can find a partner to collaborate on the conclusions.
You can download an empathy map template with instructions by clicking the button below. You will also receive new articles, resources and great finds around once a month.