Empathy Map

Empathy map, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

The empathy map, one of XPLANE’s methods for understanding audiences, including users, customers, and other players in any business ecosystem, has gotten some press lately because it was featured in Alex Osterwalder‘s excellent book, Business Model Generation as a tool for discovering insights about customers.

Here’s how it works:

GOAL: The goal of the game is to gain a deeper level of understanding of a stakeholder in your business ecosystem, which may be a client, prospect, partner, etc., within a given context, such as a buying decision or an experience using a product or service. The exercise can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. You should be able to make a rough empathy map in about 20 minutes, provided you have a decent understanding of the person and context you want to map. Even if you don’t understand the stakeholder very well, the empathy-mapping exercise can help you identify gaps in your understanding and help you gain a deeper understanding of the things you don’t yet know.

1. Start by drawing a circle to represent the person and give the circle a name and some identifying information such as a job title. It helps if you can think of a real person who roughly fits the profile, so you can keep them in mind as you proceed. In keeping with the idea of a “profile” think of the circle as the profile of a person’s head and fill in some details. You might want to add eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and maybe glasses if appropriate or a hairstyle to differentiate the person from other profiles you might want to create. These simple details are not a frivolous addition — they will help you project yourself into the experience of that person, which is the point of the exercise.

2. Determine a question you have for that stakeholder. If you had a question you would want to ask them, or a situation in their life you want to understand, what would that be? You might want to understand a certain kind of buying decision, for example, in which case your question might be “Why should I buy X?”

3. Divide the circle into sections that represent aspects of that person’s sensory experience. What are they thinking, feeling, saying, doing, hearing? Label the appropriate sections on the image.

4. Now it’s time for you to practice the “empathy” portion of the exercise. As best you can, try to project yourself into that person’s experience and understand the context you want to explore. Then start to fill in the diagram with real, tangible, sensory experiences. If you are filling in the “hearing” section, for example, try to think of what the person might hear, and how they would hear it. In the “saying” section, try to write their thoughts as they would express them. Don’t put your words into their mouth — the point is to truly understand and empathize with their situation so you can design a better product, service or whatever.

5. Check yourself: Ask others to review your map, make suggestions, and add details or context. The more the person can identify with the actual stakeholder the better. Over time you will hone your ability to understand and empathize with others in your business ecosystem, which will help you improve your relationships and your results.

Here’s a template:

Click here for photos of empathy-mapping in action.

Here’s a nice online empathy map for use by distributed teams.

19 comments for “Empathy Map

  1. November 13, 2009 at 3:15 am

    That’s a nice exercise; I like the simplicity of the visual as well.

    As well as facilitation, I do some mediation and conflict resolution work. This might be a good exercise for someone in a conflict to do, thinking about the person they are in conflict with – to try to understand the other person’s point of view, and how the world makes sense for them.

    Thanks for posting that up.

  2. Dave Gray
    November 13, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Great point Stuart and I agree. Really, anytime you want to see things from another person’s perspective, this is a great tool you can use to make a quick approximation that you can then test to see if others agree with your assessment.

  3. November 23, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Interesting process … will have to give this a go. I’m sure thinking about how you approach a stakeholder and being prepared for a meeting in this manner would be of some benefit but just wondering if there would be any downsides for trying to second guess?

  4. June 15, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    This is great. I am putting a slight twist on this for my market, but I love your empathy map poster. I am using this for finding my ideal customer in my businesses. Thanks.

    Just purchasing your book and am looking forward to going though it.


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