This technique is a powerful way to build empathy towards your customer and the problems they are facing.

Da Vinci Empathy Map

Empathy Map

This particular tool helps teams develop deep, shared understanding and empathy for other people. People use it to help them improve customer experience, to navigate organisational politics, to design better work environments, and a host of other things.

An empathy or expectation map is an exploration of how a customer experiences a service. An empathy map helps you to explore current or past experiences. An expectation map helps you understand the future or ideal experience.

An empathy map is a simple, visual guide to understanding a person’s experience over time, from the point they start needing a service to when they stop using it. You can use the tool to zoom out from focusing on actions and behaviours to consider people’s thoughts, feelings and experience as they engage with your service. It would typically include what your users were thinking, feeling, saying. doing, seeing, and hearing. 

Who would use this tool? 

  • Service designers, team members, business stakeholders

When to use an Empathy Map? 

  • Empathy maps are most useful during the discovery and define phase - after you’ve gathered initial research and user requirements. But you could use it at any point to refocus on your users’ experience.
  • Empathy mapping is usually done after you’ve done some research into the people that use your service. This could be: A workshop to gather information about a type of user. Conversations with colleagues, Interviews with potential consumers of your service or Desktop research. This research can be used to create personas, fictional characters that represent different types or categories of user. 

Why use it?

Advantages of empathy mapping:

  1. Provides a guide to understanding the experience and actions of individual or types of consumer (i.e. personas)
  2. Shows how your service could impact the life of a real person
  3. Offers a framework to visualise your service users’ desires and experiences with sketches and photos
  4. Reveals the underlying “why” behind your service users’ actions, choices and decisions – those which are more difficult for people to articulate
  5. Allows you to proactively design for people’s real needs
  6. Enhances understanding in a different way to listening to or reading a report

What comes after empathy mapping?

  • Create journeys that describe the current state of your consumers with regards to the service - even if it doesn't exist
  • Better engagement of stakeholders with their service users
  • Enable faster understanding – stakeholders grasp how even slight design changes can make a big impact on service users
  • Innovation

How to use an empathy map

  • Sample activity
  • Workshop duration: 45 minutes
  • Preparation time: 1 hour
  • Supplies: Fine-tip markers, large sticky easel sheets or flipchart sheets, sticky notes in different colours


  1. Based on your existing knowledge and hypotheses about your service users (from any kind of research you’ve done), think about the obstacles or pains that they encounter.
  2. Ask how your service could remove those obstacles or pains. Talk to one another in the room. Ask each other questions to understand this better. 
  3. Pinup or draw the outline of your empathy map. To draw it, divide a large flipchart sheet into four quadrants with the headings, Think and Feel, Say and Do, Hear and See in each quarter (Access the template in Resources). Decide the main pain point that you’re trying to solve. This will be the focus of your empathy map. Write that above the map.
  4. Using sticky notes, start filling in the empathy map with your service users’ emotions at that point. Use one sticky note for each emotion or idea. Don’t have enough information? Fill in the maps with your hypotheses, then test these by conducting further research at a later stage.
  5. Share and present the empathy maps to your team. Discuss the process that led you to the outcome(s). 
  6. Summarise your findings and share that with stakeholders and team members.
  7. Keep the empathy maps for the following exercises in the process. 

Coaching tips: 

Keep the empathy maps for developing journeys and other tools later. Stick them on a wall in your team area (if space permits) for reference and review.

  • Iterate the map as many times as you like with any additional details you gather.
  • You can create different maps for different service user types, should your service have many types of users.
  • You can use different sources of information to populate your map. Don't restrict yourself to one technique or source (e.g. combine desktop research with interviews and observations).
  • Schedule time to collate the information gathered.
  • Arrange a follow-up session to summarise, confirm your group findings and define the next steps.


EQ is just as important as IQ in the design process. Check out this short animation where Dr Brené Brown reminds us that empathy requires bravery and self-awareness.