How To Use Empathy Mapping To Understand Your Users

UI/UX Design

User Research

A client workshop in the Komodo studio. People are stood talking in front of a whiteboard covered in notes
A client workshop in the Komodo studio. People are stood talking in front of a whiteboard covered in notes
A client workshop in the Komodo studio. People are stood talking in front of a whiteboard covered in notes

Empathy is a natural human expression. As people, we are wired to share and understand each other to survive on this big lump of rock floating through space. Most of us understand how central empathy is to our survival. And yet, when it comes to application in the real world, it can be easily be discarded to the bottom of the priority list.

The same applies to digital design. When planning and researching products, it’s so easy to get caught up in the technicalities. From KPIs to ROIs we can lose our focus on the user and neglect our basic human need to empathise. Finding the right customer/business balance is challenging. However, conducting thorough user research will help you address this difficult balancing act. That’s where the empathy map comes in.

What Is Empathy Mapping?

As a research method, this will put the user front and centre and is a simple way to stimulate fresh ideas about how they behave. The concept was created by Dave Gray to address the need to recalibrate our attitude towards empathy in design thinking. Empathy mapping focuses on visualising your user’s thoughts, feelings and actions to create a vibrant picture of who they are. In turn, the process will help you make better-informed decisions about your digital product’s design.

Advantages include:

  • It makes your user research tangible. The visual impact of an empathy map will help make your research more accessible.

  • You can discover new angles and insights that you previously hadn’t considered.

  • Get to better understand your user; enabling better development processes and consequently, a better ROI.

A simple empathy map is divided into four quadrants with the user dead centre.

Each quadrant requires a unique type of data. Once the map is complete you will emerge with a more vivid picture of your user. Let’s look at how to get the most out of each quadrant.


The purpose of the ‘says’ quadrant is to replicate what your user(s) say out loud about your products or business as a whole. The data shown in this quadrant should solely be based on actual quotes from your customers. Remember to note word for word the positive AND the negative comments.

  • “They can always be relied upon to provide excellent client support whenever we need them.”

  • “They listened to us and resolved any issues immediately.”

  • ‘It was sometimes difficult to understand where to go.”

  • ‘It was mind-numbingly dull.”


Here you are aiming to gain an insight into how users think through their experience and engagement with your product. Make sure you are noting down any potentially internalised thoughts, too.

  • What are their initial thoughts? “This looks boring.”

  • What matters to them the most. “I want to know more about the services they offer.”

  • What types of logic do they apply. “This product isn’t as good as previous versions.”


This aims to create a snapshot of their physical activity. So, how they interact with your digital product and how they go about doing it exactly.

  • Navigational activity. How do they navigate through the UI?

  • How quickly and easily can they find what they need?

  • What devices do they use? Mobile vs. desktop.

  • What time of day do they use your product?

  • Are they constantly having to refresh the page?


Focus on describing individual feelings they experience when they interact with your products or business.

  • Annoyed “The pages take forever to load.”

  • Worried “This doesn’t look safe.”

  • Confused “I can’t find what I’m looking for.”

  • Curious “I wonder what this does.”

  • Excited “I can’t wait to see where this take me.”

    Once you’ve completed all four quadrants, you will have a rich perspective of how your user(s) feel towards your product. As a result, you will be able to zoom out, start connecting ideas and brainstorming with your team about the implications of your findings.

    With these ideas in mind, you can start to carve out how you want to proceed with your product planning. Do you need to address any issues or bugs? Do you need to make your product more visually appealing? Do you need to simplify navigation to your most important pages?

    You can create empathy maps for an individual or create a persona that represents a segment of your audience. There are no rules here, but don’t cut corners. Make as many maps as you need.

    Try breaking your team into groups and have them spend a small amount of time on each map you create to get a whole picture and keep everyone engaged in your empathy mapping session.

    Collecting data for empathy maps

    We live in the 21st-century people. There is no excuse for not coming prepared with the data you need. Collecting data for User Research would require another article altogether. However, the best type of data to collect for this exercise would be a rich qualitative dataset. Here’s some inspiration for where you can find this kind of data:

    • User Interviews

    • Case studies

    • Surveys

    • Polls

    • Social Media

    • Social Listening

    • Reviews

    How to run an Empathy Mapping Session

    At KOMODO, we’re pros at running our discovery workshops with our clients. So here are six tips on getting started with your session.

    1. Get everyone on the same page. Clear a space in everyone’s calendar and get them involved. It is surprising how much fresh insight you can gain from hearing perspectives from all areas of your organisation; insights that may have gone completely under the radar of the product team.

    2. Get in an open space with big tables and room for movement.

    3. Fill said space with sheets of A1 paper, marker pens, post-it notes, whiteboards.

    4. Make the personas human! Create a name and stick a picture in the centre of each map to help visualise the user’s life better.

    5. Let the mapping commence! Set your teams away, break them up into groups and try to ensure there isn’t one person shouting above the rest.

    6. Have fun! Not everyone is going to be up for it at first, but once those creative juices get flowing, good luck getting them to stop.

Got an idea? Let us know.

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