Crawling inside your client’s head.

An ugly thought? No. It’s just caring about your client. They appreciate advice from someone that has their best interest at heart.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is not sympathy; it’s empathy. Sympathy is a third-person emotional response, while empathy is proactive and involves crawling inside your client’s head.

One of the good things about the human centred design movement is it’s given us a host of tools that allow us to consistently deliver great design solutions for clients. One of these is the empathy map; a collaborative tool that gets us inside a client’s head.

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 – What is your client thinking? What are their motivations, their goals, their needs, their desires? What emotions might they feel?

See – What is the client encountering in their daily experiences?

Hear – What is the client hearing and how is it influencing them?

Say & do – Significant quotes and key words the client said and which actions and behaviours you noticed.

Pains – Pain points summarise the clients’ fears and obstacles. Gains indicate what the users expect and what would be beneficial to them.

Gains – Indicate what the client expects to achieve and how it will benefit them.

Here’s an empathy map we prepared earlier. It was done to understand a client who was working in a manufacturing business where she was having trouble getting the ‘boy’s club’ to recognise her abilities.

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 “I want to get inside their head”. 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 map reduces overanalysing or overthinking so you address issues previously overlooked. The idea behind it is to throw yourself into their environment, and to think and feel 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.

Want more?

Here’s more information on how design maturity creates value:
1 What motivates clients
2 Understanding a client to develop new business
3 How design mature are your clients.

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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.

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