Selling design value to clients

Walk a day in your clients’ shoes – empathy mapping.

I have met with a lot of designers over the past six months and it’s encouraging to see that more and more of them are using empathy mapping to understand clients. I have built it into the first term of The Design Business School because I see it as a key design thinking tool.

I think that the best way to convince a client about the value of design is to understand what motivates them. This is where I use an empathy map, a collaborative tool that puts us in our clients’ shoes.

It allows us to better analyse the wants and needs of clients, and in the process uncover previously unseen or unnoticed ways to improve a product or service. Empathy mapping is a very simple way to identify and reduce potential hurdles and in the process better understand our clients. We use six building blocks when preparing an empathy map:

Think & feel



Say & do



We use a brainstorming process to fill in the map using PostIt notes and Stickies.

Why use an empathy map?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the experiences and emotions of another person, and is simply a fancy way of saying “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes”. In business, especially design studios, one of the goals we should be striving for is a personal relationship with our clients. If used correctly, an empathy reduces overanalysing or overthinking so that you address issues you may have previously overlooked. The idea behind it is to throw yourself into their environment, and to think like them.

How does empathy mapping help?

  • It reveals the underlying “why” behind users’ actions, choices and decisions so we can proactively design for their real needs.
  • It sticks. It invites others to internalise parts of the clients’ experience in ways that listening to or reading a report cannot.
  • It paves the way for innovative design concepts to be revealed. When everyone in the studio understands the situations, they are able to quickly understand how slight design changes can make a big impact on users.

When would I use an empathy map?

Empathy maps can be used whenever you find a need to immerse yourself in a client’s environment.

They can be helpful when, but are not limited to:

  • diving into the client segments of a business model canvas
  • elaborating on user personas
  • before meeting with a client for a briefing on a large project
  • capturing the behaviours when debriefing a client.


Hang the map in a high traffic area of your studio. Perhaps next to the coffee room or on the way to bathroom. Put up a sign that says, “What ideas would you add?” with a stack of PostIts and a Sharpie pen (be sure to use color that you haven’t used before.) This not only encourages everyone to riff on ideas but also allows everyone to get involved in the project.

When I started using empathy maps in my Selling design value workshop I was asked what the difference is between personas and empathy mapping.

On the surface of it they seem similar. They both help you create a description of your clients and they get your team talking in a more user centred way and viewing a product, service or issue from the perspective of a client.

Empathy mapping differs from personas in that it focuses on uncovering the sensory information and experience of your users. While personas focus on interests, skills, personality, dreams and environment, empathy maps uncover what your persona sees, thinks/feels, hears, gains, and is challenged by.

In this way empathy mapping is all about sensory impact. And that’s what makes it such a powerful tool.

I develop a persona statement as a preliminary to doing the empathy map. I also take the empathy map into a Design value proposition canvas to define how clients will get value from design.

Obviously there is more to this whole process. If you want to take it to the next level have a look at the Selling design value workshop.

Greg Branson
Design Business Council
Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.
Greg has developed a series of processes and tools to help designers manage their business better along with a series of workshops that show designers how to use these tools.