🔬Design Thinking, Empathy Maps, Journey Maps, and How They Are Interconnected🔗

Alex Stolzoff
Mar 1 · 7 min read
Research Cartoon

You’ve probably heard about empathy maps and journey maps, but never discussed how they are interconnected. This is due to the fact that learning the ins and outs of User Experience consists of various specialties, the ever-expanding field of knowledge, and the endless list of buzzwords. Among these buzzwords, the ones that tend to stand out the most are design thinking, empathy maps, and journey map, alongside personas. While many people have a solid understanding of these terms, they fail to understand how they are all interconnected.

Design thinking, empathy maps, and journey maps allow you to understand the user much better than any archaic marketing by expanding on personas. The best thing about empathy and journey maps is that the deliverables can be referred back to at any point in the design process by any team member, new or old, providing them a clear understanding of what problems need to be addressed. Sounds exciting, right? Well before you make any of these deliverables, you must get the right insights and synthesize them into a persona. Let’s dive in!

Where to start

Before you tackle any design problem, you want to make sure you understand design thinking.

Design thinking is a simple and effective way to find the right customer solution. It consists of empathizing deeply with the consumer, brainstorming potential solutions (no matter how out of the box they are) then testing and iterating on those ideas until you find a good solution.

Empathizing is the first and most vital step to the process, meaning if you do it wrong it could throw off the rest of the process. A mistake that a lot of designers make is they don’t do any external research to inform their insights during the empathy phase. This can result in a distorted, and in some instances, stereotypical view of what the user needs. A common deliverable that embodies these distorted perceptions of user needs is the proto-persona[not to be confused with a persona]. In order to avoid pitfall always make sure you do your user research so that you understand the problem as if it were one, you face on a daily basis.

Brainstorming is a process where you want to make sure that no idea is off-limits. Perhaps you’re thinking, “This idea can’t be executed, the technology just isn’t there yet!” or “We definitely don’t have the budget for this”. While these are both valid concerns, write it down anyway. You never know what it may inspire. Perhaps after hearing your idea someone thinks of a way to tweak it so that it is feasible. Maybe someone is able to think of a way to water down the solution and make it executable. Never discount what human creativity and ingenuity can accomplish. Just share it.

Once the brainstorming session is finished decide on what ideas are best suited to solve the customer’s problem. Take those ideas and use them to build, test, and iterate. This allows you to get valuable feedback directly from the stakeholder while being able to make multiple iterations. Each iteration should make the product a more natural fit for the user, if it doesn’t then you need to jump back to the brainstorming or empathizing phase and figure out what went wrong. This is the magic of design thinking and the design process. It welcomes mishaps and is a natural part of the process.

When going about the design process you will be collecting data about your users, recognizing patterns, and grouping them accordingly [I recommend using an affinity diagram to go about this]. This data will be used to create your persona[s]. While personas tend to be created somewhere between the empathize and brainstorming phase, whenever you acquire new insights you should be sure to update them accordingly. Your persona is the face of your users’ goals and frustrations.

Empathy Maps vs Journey Maps

In recent years empathy maps and journey maps have gained popularity due to the fact they are an upgrade and extension of personas. Personas are too empathy maps, what the internet is to our intellect. We have a base set of knowledge that we can store by default, but with the advent of the internet — and smartphones — we now treat the internet as a more detailed extension of our intellect. We may not know the exact answer, but we know how to find it, yet the intellect would be rendered useless without our intellect as we would no longer be able to use it in the slightest. That is the relationship personas have with empathy and journey maps. They are not a replacement and they serve no purpose without the personas in place.

Empathy Mapping

Empathy map template drawing. Say, Think, Do, Feel
Empathy map template drawing. Say, Think, Do, Feel

Empathy maps are deliverables that provide insight into what your persona says, does, thinks, and feels. Each of these are broken into quadrants that consist of the following.

This portion consists of quotes of what the user has said aloud during interviews

These are particular actions the user takes while using your product.

This section consists of what the user thinks during the entire process. Since humans have yet to be capable of reading minds, these “thoughts” are derived from insights gained during quantitative analysis. If you’re permitted to record the user — after filming — you can study their body language to harness insights as to what they are thinking as well as doing.

This section informs you of what the user is feeling and what is causing this i.e. Excited because they just won a prize

The significance of this mapping system is that it allows you to see conflicting information you may not otherwise acknowledge if not looked at closer. For example, say a user says they like how a screen looks, but while using it they have to execute the task multiple times. If you solely recorded that the user liked the UI or the user had trouble executing the task you would end up either leaving the page as is or revising the entire page. Whereas when you get the full picture you are then able to understand that the UI that has been designed is serving its visceral purpose, but not its behavioral purpose.

Journey Mapping

A journey map is a detailed visualization that shows how a user-based persona is feeling throughout the process of using a particular product. When making a journey map always remember to cover these 5 key components.

An actor is a persona that the journey map is built around

The scenario sets the scene for this particular journey map, whereas the expectations are what the persona expects to take place. Expectations can be influenced by familiar mental models or marketing of the product [This is why marketing is a crucial aspect of the user experience].

These are the high level steps that the customer journey is broken into. An example of this would be if you were creating phases for downloading the app clubhouse, you could title them discover, searches, downloads, uses, educates.

Actions, mindsets, and emotions are sorted across the different phases of the user journey.

Actions are all the tasks that make up each phase.

Mindsets are the thoughts, commentary, and concerns a user may externally express about each phase.

Emotions are represented by a curved line graph that goes up and down to communicate how happy or frustrated the user is with each phase of the journey. It’s common practice to plant emojis on the y-axis of the journey map to make it easy to understand the emotional state of the user across the whole journey.

After analyzing a user journey teams come up with where the user journey can improve[opportunities] and how it executes these improvements[internal ownership and metrics].

As you can start to see there is a fair amount of overlap between personas, empathy maps, and journey maps. Now that we’ve covered the basics let dive into the relationship between all these deliverables.

Bringing it Full Circle

Throughout this article, I’ve mentioned three primary deliverables — personas, empathy maps, and journey maps — as well as design thinking. These are all key elements of the UX design process, but what is unique about them is how they depend on one another. They all require empathy, yet without them, our empathy would never be rendered.

The entire design process begins empathizing with the user and gathering data. Once this data is gathered you can synthesize it into a persona, which will serve as the centerpiece for both your empathy and journey map. The empathy map helps you identify what the user is struggling with and the journey map allows you to identify where in the process this is occurring. Because of this, it makes little to no sense to create these deliverables independently of one another. You cannot render reliable personas, empathy maps, and journey maps without exercising design thinking, and without these deliverables, design thinking is rendered useless across your team. If you do exercise design thinking without creating these deliverables two things will happen:

  1. The findings will be forgotten or misconstrued while trying to design for the user
  2. The findings will never be communicated to future team members

Furthermore, to truly design for your primary persona, empathy and journey maps are necessary. Empathy maps to better understand the user as a person and journey maps to better understand the context in which your persona is using the product and what pitfalls they encounter.

Making sure that these are always interconnected in your design process will ensure you design from an empathetic and analytic lens.

Thanks for reading! I’m an individual who is passionate about UX design, front-end development, AR/VR/XR, and crypto.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to get in touch you can reach me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or my website.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Join The Startup’s +787K followers.

Sign up for Top 10 Stories

By The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Subscribe to receive The Startup's top 10 most read stories — delivered straight into your inbox, once a week. Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Alex Stolzoff

Written by

UCSD Alumni.UI/UX Designer & Developer.User Researcher.Drummer.Published Co-Author.Avid User of Periods To Separate Terms Which I Believe Define My Identity.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

Alex Stolzoff

Written by

UCSD Alumni.UI/UX Designer & Developer.User Researcher.Drummer.Published Co-Author.Avid User of Periods To Separate Terms Which I Believe Define My Identity.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store