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What is an empathy map?

3-minute read

December 21, 2020

An empathy map is a collaborative tool teams can use to gain a deeper insight into their customers. Much like a user persona, an empathy map can represent a group of users, such as a customer segment. The empathy map was originally created by Dave Gray and has gained much popularity within the agile community.

How would I use an empathy map?

A sample empathy mapping session may be as follows:

Assemble your team and have them bring any personas, data, or insights about the target of your empathy map. Print out or sketch the empathy map template on a large piece of paper or whiteboard. Hand each team member sticky notes and a marker. Each person should write down their thoughts on stickies. Ideally everyone would add at least one sticky to every section. You might ask questions, such as:

  • What would the user be thinking and/or feeling? What are some of their worries and aspirations?
  • What would their friends, colleagues, and boss be likely to say while the user is using our product? What would the user hear in these scenarios?
  • What would the user see while using our product in their environment?
  • What might the user be saying and/or doing while using our product? How would that change in a public or private setting?
  • What are some of the user’s pain points or fears when using our product?
  • What gains might the user experience when using our product?

Have the team members speak about the sticky notes as they place them on the empathy map. Ask questions to reach deeper insights so that they can be elaborated for the rest of the team. To help bring the user to life, you may even wish to sketch out the characteristics this person may have on the center of the face. At the end of the session, ask the team members what insights they learned. More importantly, ask them what hypotheses they now have about the users that they’d like to validate.

When would I use an empathy map?

Empathy maps can be used whenever you find a need to immerse yourself in a user’s environment. They can be helpful, for example, when:

  • diving into the customer segments of a business model canvas
  • elaborating on user personas
  • capturing behaviors when interviewing a customer
  • building out the “user” in a user story

To get an idea of the impact you can make with a simple tool like the empathy map, check out how Fjord used empathy maps to understand the user journeys of the thousands of asylum seekers taking up refuge in reception centers around Finland in order to design and prototype better services for them.

What if my team is distributed?

While empathy mapping sessions are ideally conducted in a collocated scenario, several online tools allow you to host a session virtually:

  • Scaled Agile Collaborate
  • Canvas Generation


David J. Bland

Founder & CEO, Precoil