Empathy mapping (uncovering insights & identifying needs)

Yaroslav Zhmikhov
Yaroslav Zhmikhov
9697 March, 18, 2022 7 min read
9697 March, 18, 2022 7 min read


The empathy map allows us to summarize the results of the research after interviews with users, as well as to identify common patterns that allow us to identify insights and determine the needs of our users.

Empathy is a deep empathy for another person, which is based on feelings.

An empathy map is a visual display of everything we know about a particular user.

Recommendation: Use the updated template by Dave Gray (XPLANE) whenever possible. You can read more in the article “Updated Empathy Map Canvas”.

An example of empathy mapping for an online e-learning platform

An example of empathy mapping for an online e-learning platform

An example of all empathy maps. Author: Szani Lee (Alexandra Lee) | Project: BeautyShelf

An example of all empathy maps. Author: Szani Lee (Alexandra Lee) | Project: BeautyShelf

If you are creating a product, service, or customer experience (CX), then a well-designed empathy map will be very helpful in developing your value proposition. You can use the Value Proposition Canvas to do this. This instrument was developed by Alexander Osterwalder.

The purpose of the empathy map

Help you gain a deeper understanding of the environment, behavior, problems, and aspirations of your users to design a user-centric solution.

Value for the team

It is a powerful tool that helps to develop deep empathy in all team members for end-users, discover insights and identify needs.

Value for business

Based on the team’s findings, a wider range of user needs can be identified. Thus, the business will receive not only a user-oriented design but also a serious competitive advantage.


  • Preparation: up to 30 minutes
  • Main activity: from 2 to 4 hours per empathy map and 4 hours to identify all insights and needs

Creating process:

Imagine that you conducted a user interview with three respondents. Now you need to transfer each respondent to the empathy map. In this way, we visualize a large amount of qualitative data.

Step 1. “WHO are we empathizing with?”

“Goal” section. It is necessary to decide WHO we will empathize with. Tell about this respondent briefly, but with important details.

Recommendation: Before starting the exercise, let the team rehearse the user interview with the selected respondent.

Step 2. "What do we want them to DO?”

“Goal” section. Think about WHAT you want this user to do with your product or service. It is understood what target tasks the user will perform.

Recommended: I described user goals in the following “User Personas” article. Thanks to Mr. 

Alan Cooper

 for the book “About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design”.

Motive > Goal > Tasks

In short, these are specific tasks that the user needs to do to complete the goals. Additionally, I want to note that “What do we want them to DO?” = tasks, so do not confuse this question with the question in step 5 “What do they DO?”.

“SEE”, “SAY”, “DO”, and “HEAR” are all external environments. We talked more about environments in the “SWOT Analysis” article.

Step 3. “What do they SEE?”

Describe everything that the respondent saw in his environment.

For example, our respondent saw:

  • A large number of CVs from designers.
  • There are few high-quality works in the reviewed CVs.
  • Most candidate portfolios are without user research.

Step 4. “What do they SAYING?”

You need to remember all the important opinions that the respondent shared with you during the user interview: small details and life stories, perhaps the respondent repeated the same thought several times, emotionally recalled some moment, etc.

For example, our respondent said:

  • Often looks closely at talented designers who are still studying at the courses.
  • Spends a lot of time on self-development.
  • Engaged in mentoring in his spare time.

Step 5. “What do they DO?”

This refers to the specific actions of the respondent that he committed in the past or the present.

For example, our respondent does:

  • Invites and conducts interviews.
  • Verification of test tasks of designers.
  • Developing the design team.

Step 6. “What do they HEAR?”

We need to describe what the respondent has heard from family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, or on social media.

For example, our respondent heard:

  • It is better to hire experienced designers.
  • An experienced designer is hard to find.
  • Experienced designers need to pay a lot of money.

Step 7. “What do they THINK and FEEL”

Only after we have completed work on all external environments, do we move on to what is happening in the respondent’s head (internal environment). This is the most important step. Finding out this data will give us an idea of “how to be our user”.

Consists of 3 sections:

  • “Paints” section. These are the problems that the character faces. That is, what are their fears, frustrations, and anxieties.
  • “Gains” section. These are the benefits to which the character goes. That is, what are their wants, needs, hopes, and dreams.
  • “What other thoughts & feelings might motivate their behavior?” section. These are drivers that can motivate or push you to take the first or next steps.

Step 8. Analyze and group similar responses from your respondents

We are done with the empathy map. Now carefully analyze your artifacts and find similar answers (they may be from different sections). Name the groups last.

An example of grouping responses. Author: Szani Lee (Alexandra Lee) | Project: BeautyShelf

An example of grouping responses. Author: Szani Lee (Alexandra Lee) | Project: BeautyShelf

Step 8. Synthesize insights

Example of insight synthesis. Author: Szani Lee (Alexandra Lee) | Project: BeautyShelf

Example of insight synthesis. Author: Szani Lee (Alexandra Lee) | Project: BeautyShelf

Here it is necessary to understand this term comprehensively. There are two types of insiders: in terms of psychology and marketing.

From the point of view of psychology:

  • Insight is a sudden understanding that was not obvious to you before.
  • Insight is the moment when you get a sudden insight that allows you to solve a certain problem or find the answer to an exciting question.
  • Insight is when Archimedes (Greek mathematician) shouted “Eureka!” That is, something to which he could not have come on his own, and this turned out to be a surprise for him.

Insights in marketing are built not on sudden understanding, but on the results of research into what the consumer needs.

From a marketing point of view:

Marketing insight is a hidden human need. In other words, this is when a person wants something (there is a hidden motive of the target audience here), but for some reason does not get it (has some kind of problem or barrier).

Insight = [motive] + [problem or barrier]

Recommended: You can read about the motive in the following “User personas” article.

Step 9. Synthesize needs

An example of the synthesis of needs from insights. Author: Szani Lee (Alexandra Lee) | Project: BeautyShelf

An example of the synthesis of needs from insights. Author: Szani Lee (Alexandra Lee) | Project: BeautyShelf

A need is a strong need for “something”. In other words, it is a very strong driving force.

We will use the synthesized insights and needs when working on the “User personas” and “Point of view (POV) — Problem statement & How might we (HMW) questions”.

To develop an empathy map, you can use one of the following services: Google Docs, Jamboard, or Miro.

Example: Empathy map

OTAKOYI UX design program:

Stage 1. Business research:

  • Step 1. Preparatory & Secondary research (Desk research)
  • Step 2. Kick-off meeting & Stakeholder interviews
  • Step 3. Business model canvas (BMC)
  • Step 4. Competitive analysis
  • Step 5. SWOT analysis
  • Step 6. Business process model and notation 2.0+ (BPMN)

Stage 2. User research:

  • Step 7. User interviews (based on proto-persona) & Hypothesis
  • Step 8. Focus groups
  • Step 9. Surveys
  • Step 10. Empathy mapping (uncovering insights & identifying needs)
  • Step 11. User personas
  • Step 12. Point of view (POV) — Problem statement & How might we (HMW) questions

Stage 3. Strategy phase:

  • Step 13. Business & User Goals
  • Step 14. Value proposition canvas (VPC) — additional POVs and value descriptions
  • Step 15. Customer journey map (CJM)
  • Step 16. Service blueprint

Stage 4. Ideation phase:

  • Step 17. Ideation (Six thinking hats, Brainstorming & The Walt Disney creativity strategy)

Stage 5. Design:

  • Step 18. Prioritization
  • Step 19. User flows & Task flow
  • Step 20. Information architecture
  • Step 21. Wireframing

Stage 6. Test:

  • Step 22. UX testing methods

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