Why I chose to work with empathy maps instead of personas

I have just finished working on a project for the National Careers Service, where we developed a product which allows people to find out what skills they have and the careers they may be suited to.

Leah Thompson
Jun 10 · 3 min read

I worked on the project from Alpha through to Beta and after some reflection, one of the main challenges I had as a researcher working on the project was the vast amount of user groups.

Anyone from the age 13 and above could be a user of the service, including:

  • young people

Basically, anyone up to when they retire.

There was also a lot of crossover of the users. For example, someone who is unemployed could have been made redundant and are using it as an opportunity for a career change.

With a large amount of user groups came a large amount of personas and the team were struggling to take them all in.

The more research I did throughout the project, we started to realise that there were users who were more likely to benefit from the service than others. To create more context and insight for these users, I decided to create an ‘extra layer’ on top of their existing personas using empathy maps.

If you’ve never come across an empathy map before, they provide in depth context about what a user is saying, thinking, feeling and doing whilst accessing a service.

Accessibility empathy map

I decided to start using empathy maps after doing some in depth accessibility research in our users homes. I gained a lot of context around how accessibility users would interact with technology and the issues they were facing when accessing our service, for example:

  • the way someone with a motor impairment would hold a mobile device

I wanted a way of capturing these insights so that our team were always keeping them in mind when designing for the service, without putting them in a document that would be read once and probably never again.

Going forward I started using empathy maps when referring to users within feedback session and developed an empathy board so that they were always available to the team and stakeholders.

Empathy board

I then develop the empathy maps further by adding ‘what success looks like’ for each of the users. Having all of this insight on one wall allowed the designers, developers, stakeholders and so on refer to the board when they had any questions about our users mental models or behaviours when using our service.

The main benefits I found from using empathy maps

  • they are easy to update after each round of research

Leah Thompson — User Researcher, Hippo Digital

Hippo Digital

Insights and news from the Hippo Digital team

Leah Thompson

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User Researcher

Hippo Digital

Insights and news from the Hippo Digital team