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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsKim Plowright: So the process that we're going to go through is called "empathy mapping". We're going to make an empathy map.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 secondsMariam Bagersh: Yeah? Should we go ahead?

Skip to 0 minutes and 15 secondsMariam Bagersh: Yeah. I guess it's kind of like a structured way of having a conversation, isn't it?

Skip to 0 minutes and 19 secondsMariam: Yeah. Well, empathy mapping mainly is just trying to figure out who your person is, what problem we're trying to solve, and what they're trying to achieve, actually. So our task is to buy a fridge. I'm going to write that down and put that in the middle because that's what we are trying to achieve.

Skip to 0 minutes and 37 secondsKim: OK.

Skip to 0 minutes and 38 secondsMariam: So maybe walk me through the first steps of what you are trying to do when you did that.

Skip to 0 minutes and 42 secondsKim: OK, so we decided we needed this new fridge, and the first thing that we did was go and have a look in one of those big out-of-town electrical shops.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 secondsMariam: OK.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 secondsKim: And yeah, there were loads of fridges. It was kind of overwhelming.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsMariam: OK, right. And how did that make you feel, in terms of when you saw all of these different fridges there?

Skip to 1 minute and 5 secondsKim: So just really confused and overwhelmed by the whole thing. It was so many. And realise we didn't really know exactly what we wanted. We didn't need anything massive, but yeah, it was just really hard to choose when there's so many things in front of you.

Skip to 1 minute and 19 secondsMariam: OK. What was the next step after you did that going and looking at all the different fridges?

Skip to 1 minute and 27 secondsKim: We looked through a few and were like, well, maybe one that's a bit like this. And we looked at a bunch of the environmental ratings on them in the store. But then actually, we gave up and just decided to do loads of research online, like looking at a trusted review site.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 secondsMariam: OK. And what were you looking for when you went through that process?

Skip to 1 minute and 49 secondsKim: I guess which ones were good, which were the best buys, which were the best value for money. It was really important that the environmental rating was good. So it was looking at which ones people liked and yeah, which ones weren't outrageously expensive. Fridges are really expensive.

Skip to 2 minutes and 6 secondsMariam: All right, so we've written down all of your emotions on the empathy map. What were the next steps in your decision-making process? You've looked at the fridges. You've looked at the reviews. What helped you, in the end, make your decision?

Skip to 2 minutes and 19 secondsKim: Well I mean I looked through the trusted review site, but then we decided which fridge that we wanted. It kind of fitted all our criteria. And I checked in with my partner, but then I had to find somewhere that would actually sell it to me. So it wasn't in stock in the first place that I tried. So I ended up searching for the model number online to try and find an online shop that had it in stock and would sell it to me. I found a place that sold it, but I really wasn't sure about it.

Skip to 2 minutes and 46 secondsMariam: Oh. Why were you unsure? What were your feelings around that?

Skip to 2 minutes and 51 secondsKim: I don't know. It seemed like a really small place. I haven't really heard of them before. And there was just something about the site that I was like, is this for real? Are they really going to deliver it? Are they just going to take my money?

Skip to 3 minutes and 3 secondsMariam: Interesting. So when you were looking at that website, was there anything specific that you could see that made you feel that way?

Skip to 3 minutes and 10 secondsKim: Yeah, it didn't look very polished. The design was quite... yeah... just a bit dodgy-looking, really.

Skip to 3 minutes and 18 secondsMariam: And so what did you do at that point?

Skip to 3 minutes and 21 secondsKim:I think I decided to trust them in the end because they were quite a lot cheaper than the only other place that had it... like a lot cheaper. And they seemed to be saying all the right things, like about delivery times and all of that. So yeah, I just went for it in the end.

Skip to 3 minutes and 37 secondsMariam: You went for it. Yeah. Great.

Skip to 3 minutes and 44 secondsOK, great. So we've actually mapped quite a few things, as you can see on the empathy map. And usually, I would actually go further in this process. So with a client, I'd maybe get to a point of what would happen when the fridge arrives at your house. But just for the purpose of this exercise, let's just start grouping some of these things together. So having a look at think and feel, what's one of the groups that you can see?

Skip to 4 minutes and 11 secondsKim: So I definitely talked a lot about is this too expensive? Is it good value? I'm definitely worried about wasting my money, and there's several of those up there. So that feels like a group.

Skip to 4 minutes and 23 secondsMariam: So knowing that price is very important, that's one group. Yeah.

Skip to 4 minutes and 28 secondsKim: Yeah. Yeah, the price was really important. Like I said, fridges are really expensive.

Skip to 4 minutes and 34 secondsMariam: OK, great. So now, we've actually gone through all of the notes. We've grouped things into specific sections. I think it would be really helpful now for us to actually think about our pains and gains.

Skip to 4 minutes and 44 secondsKim: OK.

Skip to 4 minutes and 45 secondsMariam: So what were some of your pains, actually, throughout this process?

Skip to 4 minutes and 49 secondsKim: I think the one that really came out strongly was the cost. It was the thing that was really worrying me was how much I was spending and if I was getting the right value for money throughout the whole thing. The other thing, it's up here it's how hard to choose it was. It was so overwhelming. So anything that could help with that choice process became really, really important to me whilst I was doing it.

Skip to 5 minutes and 9 secondsMariam: Yeah. And actually, something else that you mentioned was trusting the website. The design of the website contributed heavily into the decision that you were making at the time.

Skip to 5 minutes and 19 secondsKim: Yeah, absolutely. That site that I found, I really hesitated to give them my money for a while. I was really not sure about them.

Skip to 5 minutes and 25 secondsMariam: Yeah, I can imagine. OK, so how about your gains, and how do you feel about that?

Skip to 5 minutes and 32 secondsKim: So I think that the really useful thing is the comparison stuff. It was any of the sites that let me sort through by my own criteria, and compare things, and definitely, the energy ratings as well. The fact that I could just go, yeah, I want the most energy-efficient fridge, please. Please show me those. That really changed the way that I was feeling about it.

Skip to 5 minutes and 52 secondsMariam: OK, so even in the gains, its specific features that stood out to you, in terms of improving your experience.

Skip to 6 minutes and 0 secondsKim: Yeah. Yeah. Totally, very much.

Skip to 6 minutes and 1 secondMariam: OK, amazing. So how did you feel about this whole experience?

Skip to 6 minutes and 7 secondsKim: I didn't know that I could talk in such detail about buying a fridge. It's a really useful way of having a structured conversation that leads you through a process.

Skip to 6 minutes and 16 secondsMariam: Exactly.

Skip to 6 minutes and 17 secondsKim: It's really handy.

Skip to 6 minutes and 18 secondsMariam: OK, I'm glad.

How can you access your 'beginner’s mind'?

As you have learned in the previous step, practicing empathy helps you see the world from someone else’s perspective. It helps you avoid designing for yourself by encouraging you to challenge your own assumptions and come up with creative and innovative solutions that better fit your end user.

Designers have developed simple tools and techniques to help them develop empathy and to step through a process in someone else’s shoes. In this video, Mariam Bagersh, co-founder of the design duo FricanDuo, shows how to use an empathy map to make sense of an interview and develop your understanding of user needs.

You can download a copy of the finished empathy map in the Downloads section. You can refer to it as you watch the video.

Why make empathy maps?

Developing empathy is not just about understanding the way an individual is different to you, but also the context that person is in. People are surrounded by family, are members of a society, live within the environment, so how do those things affect the person? What effects might our proposed solutions and decisions have on that individual’s wider context, too?

You might be a whiz with your new smart watch, but imagine handing it to an elderly person with poor eyesight who doesn’t have your implicit knowledge about how it would work. Would their experience be as easy and rewarding as yours? How might you help them learn how to use it?

Have a go: try an empathy map

Think of something you’ve recently done. Perhaps you’ve bought something online, taken a journey or signed up for a service or an online course.

Create your own empathy map of the process by answering these questions:

  1. What were you trying to get done? What was your goal?
  2. What was the first thing you did?
  3. What were you seeing, hearing, doing, thinking and feeling as you went about the process?
  4. What happened next? Continue through the experience.
  5. What were your pains – the things that were difficult or felt wrong?
  6. What were your gains – the things that went well or delighted you?

You can download a blank empathy map to work with from the Downloads section.

Working through very simple exercises like empathy mapping encourages us to ask questions that help us notice those contexts. Stepping through a mundane process carefully, as if you were doing it for the first time, can expose hidden complexity and help you consider all aspects of a problem. It helps you discover pain points that help you generate ideas for improving an experience. Finished empathy maps also help you document and communicate that understanding to other people.

Empathy maps are a way of accessing our Beginner’s Mind, a concept borrowed from Zen Buddhism and known as Shoshin. This suggests that dropping our preconceptions and our belief in our own expertise can help us see things with fresh eyes, and learn in the same way a beginner would.

This way of thinking opens us up to unexpected ideas and possibilities and also helps us spot times when we assume that something will work ‘because we’ve always done it that way’.

Share your experience:

  • What surprised you about your empathy map?
  • Did you find it easy to fill out?
  • What pains and gains did you discover?

Share your impressions of the experience in the Comments section and find out how other learners got on.

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This video is from the free online course:

Get Creative with People to Solve Problems

University of Leeds