Empathic mapping: when and how to use it?

  • Tutorial
I translated a recent article on IDF , by authors Rikke Dama and Theo Xiang. This article contains a useful and simple instrumental technique for moving from observing a user to determining his needs when developing your service or product.
Do you know that users are more likely to choose, buy and use products that simply meet their wishes and needs? Empathic mapping helps to understand the needs of the user, while you are meditating on understanding for whom, after all, are you doing product design? There are many different techniques to develop this way of empathy. Empathic mapping is one such technique that helps you feel and put together your observations at the research stage and express unexpected insights about the needs of users of your product.

Empathic mapping allows you to summarize what was learned from meetings with people during the research phase of design. Such a map shows four main areas on which you need to focus, thus providing an overview of the user experience (of that UX, * approx. Transl.). Empathic maps are a great tool for creating idealized portraits of users, which are also best done later.

An empathic map consists of four quadrants. The four quadrants reflect the four key reactions that the user expresses or is forced to express during the observation or product research phase. Four quadrants refer to what the user said, did, thought, or felt. What the user said or did is pretty easy to identify. However, to determine what he thought or felt, you can only carefully observe the behavior of the user, and his reaction to the suggestion of actions, prompting conclusions, reaction in the dialogue, and so on.

How to do best (Best Practice)

Step 1. Fill in an Empathic Map

  • Draw four quadrants on paper or blackboard.
  • We consider our notes, drawings, audio and video from research and field work, and fill each of the four quadrants by doing the work of defining and summarizing:
    • What does the user SAY? We write down significant quotes and keywords spoken by the user.
    • What is the user DOING? We describe the actions and selected behaviors that you noticed, or insert pictures and drawings.
    • What does the user THINK? Dig deeper. What do you think about what the user can think of? What are his motivations, goals, objectives and desires? What tells you about his or her faith and prejudice?
    • What does the user FEEL? What emotions can a user experience? Try to pick up hints like body language or the choice of words and tone of conversation, take them into account.

Step 2. Summarize NEEDS

  • Summarize user needs based on empathic map. This will determine the design task.
  • Needs are verbs , that is, actions and desires expressed actively. Needs are not nouns; they will lead you to the definition of solutions.
  • Define your needs directly from the user actions you’ve tagged. Define needs from the contradictions between the two actions, for example, between what the user says and what he does.
  • Use Maslow's hierarchy of needs to help you understand and identify your deepest needs.
  • Relate the result obtained with all five layers of the Maslow pyramid to determine what need the user needs to satisfy in the first place. Start thinking about how your product or service will help meet some of these needs.
  • Record user needs.

Step 3. Summarize REVIEWS

  • Illumination is a vivid thought that helps you solve the current design problem that you run into.
  • Summarize the main insights, especially from the contradictions between the various attributes of the user. They can be found inside one quadrant, or in two different quadrants. You can also summarize insights by asking yourself “Why?” if you notice strange, tense or unusual behavior.
  • Jot down insights

Literature to study

Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality, 1943
(from a translator) Aleksei Alekseevich Ukhtomsky, The Doctrine of the Dominant, 1924
Translator's Note: I removed from the translation a chewed idea of ​​Maslow's hierarchy of needs, those who wish can refer to the original. On my own, I’ll add that it will still be useful to read Thomas Metzinger’s “Tunnel of the Ego”, which contains a fresh analysis and synthesis of German studies of virtual reality, which is deeply interested in the planning of user needs.

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