Jennifer Coffey

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Empathy Maps

“The highest form of knowledge is empathy.”

Bill Bullard


Brian Alldridge saw Jimmy Choi’s TikTok video where Choi struggled to take out a single pill from his medication dispenser due to his tremors from Parkinson’s disease. Alldridge saw the video and came up with a new design to isolate a single pill for easy use. Within days the 3D printing community on TikTok got ahold of the idea and started to create a working prototype. Now, the team is working on manufacturing and distributing these dispensers to anyone that struggles taking medication. Check out this Mashable video for the whole story. 

Jimmy Choi showing off the fifth model of the pill bottle dispenser

Without Alldridge’s sense of empathy, he would have never taken the time to develop a brand new design. This situation is a perfect example of how social media can connect us from all over the world. 

What is empathy

There are two types of empathy. First, there is affective empathy, where the person shares a mirrored response with another person. An example of affective empathy is when someone is emotional, and we become emotional too. The next is cognitive empathy, where a person looks at the perspective of another person. An example of cognitive empathy is when a friend fails a test, or someone has a bad day. For more information about empathy, check out this video from RSA ANIMATE.

The five step design thinking process. Today’s post is all about empathy.

Empathy in Design Thinking

This design thinking process is a human-centered way of solving problems. There are five stages of this process: empathy, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Empathy is the first and one of the most important stages in the design thinking process. It kicks off by getting to know and empathize with the user. “It involves learning about the difficulties people face, as well as uncovering their latent needs and desires in order to explain their behaviors,” (Dam & Siang, 2020). This gives designers insight into their emotions and needs. It also allows the designers to put aside their thoughts and feelings to focus on the humans they are designing for. 

Empathy Maps

So how can we take notes on empathy? One method is an empathy map.

What are empathy maps?

An empathy map is a collaborative tool that designers can use to gain more in-depth insight into their users. An empathy map layout allows the designer to break the insights down into different categories to give an overall idea of the user’s wants and needs. 

These maps come in all different shapes and sizes, but there is one thing they all have in common. They all focus on what the USER says, thinks, does, hears, sees, feels, and their pains and gains. Depending on the template, there could be grouped categories such as thinks/feels or says/ does.

How to create one

The materials and medium are up to you, but you will need space for each of the four categories and other notes as well. Start off with your user in the center and divide into four sections. Then, at the bottom, add pains and gains for the user. Depending on what type of user you are creating a map for, there might be different combinations of sections. For example, think/ feel might be combined to add hear.

  • Say – quotes about what the user says about a product/service. 
  • Think – what is the user thinking about while using the product/service?
  • Feel – emotions on the users interaction with the product/service. 
  • Do – actions and behaviors of the user. 
  • See – what the user sees and experiences
  • Hear – what the user hears during their experience
  • Pain – struggles or concerns
  • Gain – benefits or positive attributes

Below is an example of an empathy map. The map is split up into four sections for think/feel, see, hear, say/do, pains, and gains.  

For more tips on creating empathy maps, check out this Adobe article for more inspiration.

This empathy map shows me the perspective of a CEO of a candle company. As he gathered more insight about his company, I gained more insight about him. My writing down everything that he was experiencing, I now have a better idea how to tailor my product/ service to his needs.

Benefits of Empathy Maps

Empathy maps are similar to business personas, but they offer more information about what a user needs, rather than their buying habits. Both are useful in this design world, but empathy maps go deeper.

Next, they are also cost-effective. Empathy maps could be created with a piece of paper and sticky notes, or even a smartphone.

Lastly, empathy maps are quick and relatively easy to make. With a bit of practice, empathy maps are a great visual tool that allow the designer to step into the users shoes.


Overall, empathy maps are a great way to write down key insights that allow designers to look at a situation from a different perspective. They get to research how the user thinks, feels, sees, does, and more while interacting with a product. This is just the first step in developing something greater.

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