Deep dive into your audience

Written by 
Agustin Soler
May 8, 2013
Deep dive into your audience
Written by 
Agustin Soler
May 8, 2013


The empathy map is one of XPLANE’s methods used to understand audiences. It was featured in the best-selling book “Business Model Generation.”

Design is only effective when the problem to solve is clearly defined. In order to do so, the first step is to identify, understand and empathize with the person who has the problem. The map helps interpret users and clients by visually synthesizing observations that help come up with unexpected insights.

When should I use it? What is it for?

The empathy map was created as a tool to help you gain understanding for a targeted persona. Thus you can use it when you want to deliver a better user experience of your product/service. In the process, the exercise can also help you identify the things you don’t know about your users so you can carry out new research to fill in those gaps.

How it works

The activity is very simple. You could make an empathy map in less than 20 minutes if you really know your audience.

The canvas’ spaces are designed to visually map the persona. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the person you are analyzing and come up with interpretations about how she feels, what she sees, what she hears, what she says/does when she is dealing with the product/service you are offering.

Basically, participants will place sticky notes with ideas regarding sensory experiences of the character onto the respective section of the empathy map. You should project yourself into the character and empathize with her.

Enrich the activity with MURAL

Involving other people creates a more realistic outcome. The empathy map becomes more accurate if it is completed taking into account what salespeople see, what communicators listen to as feedback and what designers have in mind when sketching for this targeted persona. Through MURAL, the empathy map becomes a visual collaboration game.

To invite many people at once, you can create an Invite Link (go to People in the header) and share it. Remember that when using MURAL collectively, everybody sees the same changes on the screen at the same time. You can also talk to other members using the Chat Box on the lower right hand side of the page. Since MURAL is an online tool, members from different locations can participate remotely - and privately. No one is left behind: yes!

When you do the exercise using a whiteboard with sticky notes, you are not able to “show” sensory experiences; MURAL allows you to add images, videos, and sounds that will help you get immersed more vividly inside your character’s world.

Easy steps to create your first Empathy Map

1. Customer Segments.

Before you start, you will need to identify which customers you try to serve and define general profiles. Select one candidate for your first empathy map. Give this customer a name and some demographics.

If you already own a mural with customer information or previous research, you can easily add an Empathy Map by clicking in Spaces in the toolbar and dragging it where you find more convenient.

If you are starting from scratch, you can create a box (go to Shapes in the toolbar and drag the square) with some post-its (go to Text Tools) for the basic profile information and place the map below.

2. You can now start the map by asking and answering the six questions in each section.

If you are working within a creative team, remember you can add Comments and Chat remotely. Use traditional post-its or enhance the wall by pulling and posting images, websites, files and videos from different sources just by dragging them into the canvas.

Our team started at the bottom, all in one area while more members joined the exercise.

- What does she say and do? In this section, try to imagine what the customer says or how she behaves in public. What could she tell other people? Try to capture specific quotes or unusual phrases you might remember from your customer.

- Pain: what are her biggest frustrations? What obstacles stand in her way? Which risks might she fear taking?

- Gain: What does she need to achieve? How does she measure success?

3. Continue to fill all the sections trying to empathize with your character’s world.

At this stage in our exercise, we were individually brainstorming and scribbling post-its all over. We would ask questions using Comments regarding other members’ ideas while we answered:

- What does she see? Describe what your customer sees in her environment. What does it look like? Who surrounds her? In this case, images speak louder than post-its! Take advantage of your virtual whiteboard and use images that convey meaning.

- What does she hear? Describe how the environment influences your customer. What do friends say? Which media channels are influential? You can add links to websites she might frequently visit.

- What does she really think and feel? Imagine her emotions, what moves her? What might keep her up at night? Describe her dreams and aspirations.

4. Identify needs and insights.

When the map is full, try to identify needs. Create a list outside the map. Needs are activities and desires with which your user could use help, so it is better to use verbs to describe them. Needs may arise directly from what you noticed or from contradictions between the sections in your empathy map.

You can also write down insights on the side. These realizations may come up due to contradictions between attributes or within conversations among members while completing the map. If you notice a strange behavior, something that stands out, ask “why” so that any member can come up with remarkable realizations.

With MURAL, the exercise never ends. You can come back to your map anytime and keep adding insights and assumptions, specially after observing or talking with customers similar to your profile.

In our exercise, a second profile started popping up, quotes and worries that diverged from our original user. Mariano asked whether we should split it into a different profile while Agustin was already dragging a new Empathy Map from Spaces next to the one we were doing. Some post-its migrated and the exercise gained speed and clarity.

We worked remotely and we were thrilled to see how our own tool allowed us to solve real problems we used to have when we wanted to synthesize observations and map ideas in one space.

Start your Empathy Map now
so you can better undestand your user/client in a quick, simple and visual format.

** Questions based on the “Business Model Generation” book and from Method Cards used at the Institute of Design at Stanford.

About the authors

About the authors

Agustin Soler

Agustin Soler

Co-founder and Chief Product Officer
A lifelong learner, passionate about strategy, productivity, and simplicity.