What Is an Empathy Map?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover how an empathy map can help you gain valuable insights into the needs and wants of your target audience.

[Featured image] A UX designer draws an empathy map on a whiteboard.

An empathy map is a simple visual tool used in design thinking and user-centered approaches to better understand and empathize with a specific group of people, such as customers or users. It helps teams gain deeper insights into the thoughts, feelings, needs, and behaviors of the target audience.

Think of an empathy map as a magnifying glass. 

Just as a magnifying glass helps you zoom in and examine tiny details, an empathy map allows you to delve deeper into the thoughts, pain points, and experiences of your target audience (potential clients or customers). This heightened awareness enables you to devise solutions that strongly resonate with your audience, resulting in higher conversion rates. 

For instance, if you're part of a product, marketing, or design/developer team, utilizing empathy maps can help you foster a user-centric design, improve business strategies, and elevate user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).

Elements of an empathy map

Visually, an empathy map is typically a square divided into four quadrants with the end-user or client at the center. Each of the four quadrants encompasses a unique aspect of the users’ mindset. The four quadrants are:

  • Say/think: This quadrant captures what the user says through UX research, including statements and quotes, shedding light on explicit needs, challenges, or preferences. For example, a direct quote from a customer could be, “The ads on this website make the pages take so long to load that I just give up,” or “Opening this container by hand is really tough.”

  • Do: This quadrant explores the user's actions, behaviors, and observable interactions. You may discover patterns such as frequent visits to a specific website, fast scrolling, quick or delayed checkout, and more. Note that users' responses to a product or service can vary greatly. 

  • Feels: This includes the emotions experienced by a consumer while handling a product or following a process. An abrupt end of a transaction may evoke a sense of worry, for instance.

  • Pain/gain: This quadrant addresses the user's pain points, challenges, and frustrations, as well as their aspirations, goals, and what they hope to achieve (gains).

Did you know? Entrepreneur and author Dave Gray is credited with creating the empathy map as a collaborative tool for understanding user personas. The XPLANE’s founder originally introduced the map in his book titled Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, which he co-authored with Sunni Brown and James Macanufo [1].


How to create an empathy map

Here is a breakdown of the steps you can follow to create an effective empathy map:

1. Define your target audience.

Before crafting an empathy map, it is crucial to establish the primary user and make a decision on whether to focus on an individual user or aggregate research to represent a specific segment of your user base. For example, if you're developing a new social media app, you may choose to target end users within the age range of 18 and above.

2. Set a SMART goal.

Ensure your goal aligns with the SMART framework, making it specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Additionally, determine the metrics you will use to measure the success of the activity.

3. Gather and consolidate user research data.

Collecting tangible user research will ease your empathy map-making process. Be sure to include data from previous studies to capture users' thoughts, emotions, and outlooks more effectively. Ways to gather relevant information about your target audience include customer reviews, email surveys, in-product surveys, customer interviews, focus groups, data analytics, and online research.

4. Draw your empathy map.

If you're working individually, a notebook and pen or pencil should suffice. If you're part of a team, consider obtaining a large whiteboard, a variety of colored whiteboard markers, sticky note pads, and writing instruments. 

5. Invite team members for collaboration.  

Enhance your empathy map by involving team members, including stakeholders who directly interact with your target audience. Their firsthand experiences and insights will significantly enhance the accuracy and relevance of mapped user profiles.

6. Gather input and feedback.

Encourage team members to share their ideas and input them onto the empathy map. If you're using a large whiteboard or wall, participants can write their ideas on sticky notes and place them in the appropriate sections or quadrants of the map. 

7. Evaluate the map to draw conclusions.

At the last stage of creating an empathy map, carefully examine your chart to derive definitive conclusions. Look for the needs of your audience and how you can meet them. Notice inconsistencies, such as differences between what they say and do, so you can gain insight into their thinking. The final assessment will help you make informed business decisions.

Related terms

Get started 

If you’re ready to get started as a UX designer (or learn more about what UX design is all about), consider the Google UX Design Professional Certificate, available through Coursera. You can equip yourself with the job-ready skills you’ll need for an entry-level role in UX design.

Article sources

  1. XPLANE. “The empathy map: A human-centered tool for understanding how your audience thinks, https://xplane.com/the-empathy-map-a-human-centered-tool-for-understanding-how-your-audience-thinks/.” Accessed May 17, 2023.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.