Empathy Mapping AKA Unarticulated Needs Mapping

Blog Empathy Mapping AKA Unarticulated Needs Mapping

Design thinking is a human-centric approach to innovation and problem solving. The first phase, Empathizing, involves taking an in-depth look at the user involved in the product or service and their needs and emotions. The Design Thinker has several tools available at their disposal to empathize effectively and thoroughly with users. Let’s look at how one of those tools, empathy maps, is used to investigate different user experience facets.

What are empathy maps?

They are a tool used to identify articulated and unarticulated user needs of a particular persona. This tool organizes how users are thinking, feeling, hearing, and what they are saying or doing while engaging with a product or service.

Empathy maps can also be called “Unarticulated Needs Maps.” Why? Using an empathy map in conjunction with a user persona eliminates bias when discussing a work challenge. Participants will be more willing to collaborate and objectively discuss their real needs and emotions through the persona.

For example, there might be a service problem at a credit card company’s call center. It may be easier to address that problem through “Looking for Answers Leanne,” a persona who is frustrated that the company’s website doesn’t have the information that she needs. The employees participating in this empathizing session are given the opportunity to speak through the lens of Leanne, rather than as themselves, to reveal honest insights about the problem.

Parts of an empathy map

Let’s break down the different parts of an empathy map and how you can use one in your next project! Be sure to have an empathy map template on hand before starting your session.

1) Say. Identify what your user is saying to those around them while engaging with the product or service. Think of direct quotes that the user might say, such as:

  • “Where can I find the restroom?” or
  • “How much longer will my order take?”


2) Do. Identify what your user is physically doing while engaging with the product or service. This includes their actions and how they are going about doing them. Examples could be:

  • Compares prices online from their phone;
  • Checks order tracking page.


3) Think. Identify what your user is thinking while engaging with the product or service. This section will tell you what matters deeply to the user and occupying their thoughts. Sometimes the “Think” category overlaps with “Say,” but think can designate factors that the user might not say aloud. Examples could include:

  • “I wish this page loaded faster,”
  • “This interface is confusing,” or
  • “I hope this will solve my problem now.”


4) Feel. Identify the emotions or feelings that the user experiences while using the product or service and the context in which they are feeling them. They can be positive emotions in which the user is pleased or excited, or negative, such as frustrated or confused. Examples include:

  • a. Impatient: call hold times are too long.
  • b. Confused: I didn’t receive a confirmation email.


Involve users in the creation of empathy maps

It is difficult to identify the unarticulated needs, such as those under “Think” and “Feel,” without talking to end-users themselves. For example, once your employees have completed “Looking for Answers Leanne’s” empathy map, you will want to speak to a member of her user group to validate the empathy map and fill in any other parts you may not have thought of.

Remember, humans are complicated, and sometimes the empathy map’s content could be contradictory. Sometimes quadrants overlap, and that’s okay. Repetition of certain ideas appearing in multiple quadrants may reveal something insightful about your persona. The overall objective is to empathize with the user to provide a more accurate picture of who you are designing for.

Empathy maps are used throughout the design process to prioritize user needs. They have the added benefit of creating a common ground within the design team, identifying which problems need to be solved.

For more on empathy maps, check out our video here: https://youtu.be/skGUy2iq_dw

As part of Spring2 Innovation’s Design Thinking Certificate, we teach you how to master all five phases of the Design Thinking methodology, starting with the empathize phase. We teach learners how to create empathy maps and conduct other types of user research needed before beginning a new design (or re-design) of a product or service that involves end-users.

To learn more about Design Thinking or to become Design Thinking Certified with Spring2 Innovation, please contact training@spring2innovation.com.