Skip main navigation

Hurry, only 10 days left to get one year of Unlimited learning for £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

The what, how and why of empathy maps

Empathy is key to human-centred design. However, UX designers need something more visual than the mere concept of empathy to help them optimise the us

Empathy is key to human-centred design. However, UX designers need something more visual than the mere concept of empathy to help them optimise the user experience. What they use is an empathy map.

Watch: What is an Empathy Map? [1]

Earlier you learned that empathy is important in UX design because the best possible experiences are developed with human users in mind. Empathy maps are a useful tool because they create a shared understanding of the user and their needs and assist in design decision-making (Gibbons 2019).

An empathy map is ‘a collaborative visualization used to articulate what we know about a particular type of user’. [2] There are a few variations, but empathy maps are generally composed of four quadrants relating to what users say, think, do and feel.

1 Saying

What are users saying about their experience with your product or service? This information can come from research interviews, studies, or even what’s communicated to others in person or online. For example, a meditation app user might say: ‘I love using Headspace as my meditation app because of how easy it is to use’, ‘I recommended signing up to Calm because there are some many useful features like the timer’, or ‘Waking Up keeps on crashing mid-session’.

2 Thinking

What are users thinking when they’re signing up, trying to get a refund, or want to share some piece of content related to your products? In other words, what’s going through their heads at specific points in their user journey? For example, a meditation app user wants to send a friend a subscription as a gift, but may think, ‘Why is this so difficult? So many clicks just to send someone a gift!’ or, ‘Wow, this process is so easy I may give a few more subscriptions now!’.

3 Doing

What are the users physically doing? How are they interacting or engaging with your product/service? For example, a meditation app user might opt in to receive the app’s monthly newsletter, press pause on the guided meditation halfway through, or share their progress on social media.

4 Feeling

What is the user feeling throughout their experience? For example, a meditation app user could be feeling excited because they finally committed to signing up for a subscription, worried because the page where they have to enter their credit card information keeps crashing, or overwhelmed because of too many daily reminders to meditate.


1. What is an Empathy Map? [Video]. Playbook UX; 2019 Mar 8. Available from:
2. Gibbons, S. Sympathy vs. Empathy in UX [Internet]. Nielsen Norman Group; 2019 Apr 21. Available from:

This article is from the free online

UX Design Fundamentals: Delivering value to users

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now