Machteld Faaz Xander
The Empathy Map is a tool that brings the focus back to the most important component of innovation—people.

What is an Empathy Map?

The Empathy Map is a tool that I touched briefly upon in the last issue of The Badger & Blacksmith. Scott Matthews of XPLANE, the well known global communications and business consultancy firm, developed the original Empathy Map, but, of course, Machteld Faas Xander (MFX) has given this version of the tool our own spin.

An Empathy Map is a fabulous tool for focusing on your end user when you have very little time to develop a full persona. It can be quickly sketched on the board and filled out within 10 to 15 minutes. It can also be combined with many of the other tools we've already explored—including the Culture Canvas and the Communication Bridge—to quickly get a group focused back on the most vital element of innovation—the customer.

How to create your own Empathy Map

Just follow these five easy steps:

Step 1.

Start by drawing a large head in the middle of a whiteboard or flip chart paper. A rough circle with eyes, ears and a smile is just perfect. Remember, no one is judging your artistic talents (that's not what's important here). Add some personality to your "customer" by giving it a name and a role (i.e., we'll call ours "Freddie" and for all intensive purposes we'll dub him with the role "Director of Sales").

Step 2.

Label the large sections around Freddie like this:

  • HEAR on the upper left
  • THINK in the upper middle
  • SEE in the upper right
  • SAY in the lower right
  • DO in the lower middle
  • FEEL in the lower left

And don't forget the final part, and our MFX spin on this tool, leave some space to note the Top Challenges and the Desired Outcomes along the bottom of your map.

Step 3.

Now it's time for the group to describe and note what Freddie's personal experience is (empathizing from his point of view) in each of the categories above. Remember, the context is very important; what he's seeing, hearing, thinking, doing, feeling and saying will be very different, depending on the situation (i.e. say, Freddie wants to sell more product). Spend about three minutes on each section, moving through the sections as a group. You can fill in each section using Post-it® notes or marker, asking:

  • What is Freddie hearing?
  • What is Freddie thinking?
  • What is Freddie seeing?
  • What is Freddie saying?
  • What is Freddie doing?
  • What is Freddie feeling?

The most important thing to keep in mind throughout the exercise is that the group should keep the emphasis on Freddie as they fill in each section. You can frame each section in the proper context by asking questions like, "What is Freddie thinking?" "What is Freddie doing?" Just don't allow the personal needs, beliefs and desires of individuals in the group influence the exercise. This isn't about your company; it's about your customer.

Step 4.

For this step of the Empathy Map, you'll fill in the Desired Outcomes (again, empathizing from Freddie's point of view), by asking questions like:

  • What is Freddie trying to get done?
  • How does Freddie measure success?
  • What results is Freddie striving to achieve?

… and the Top Challenges by asking:

  • What is preventing him from achieving his desired outcomes?
  • What issues, frustrations, headaches and hassles does Freddie struggle with?

Note: Keep your Empathy Map visible to the entire group for the duration of the exercise so the focus remains on the customer.

Step 5.

Now that the Empathy Map is drawn, brainstorm ideas to help Freddie by asking questions such as:

  • How can we help Freddie overcome these obstacles?
  • How can we help him achieve his desired outcomes faster? Cheaper? Better?

Want to find out more about our Design Thinking process?

Our Design Thinking process blends creative problem-solving (left-brain) with analytical thinking (right-brain), and supplies the foundation for all of the innovation tools that MFX uses in-house and with clients. The great thing about Design Thinking and the Empathy Map is that it will challenge everyone in your group to remain human-focused throughout the brainstorming process.

Good news! If you're itching to explore our Design Thinking process further, join us for a Design Thinking Basics Workshops at the MFX office. Anyone and everyone will benefit—all you need to bring is your passion for innovation and an open mind.


For Inquiries

Contact: Alison De Muy
Phone: 519 576 6422 ext. 116


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