Empathy mapping

An empathy map is a simple visual that maps out a customer’s persona by breaking down what influences them, such as their behavior, surroundings, and thoughts and feelings.


Catalog and group your customers' needs.

Reinforce persona-based design thinking through an intimate understanding of your target customer. 

If you're struggling with value and metrics, proof of concept, or customer centricity on your Health Monitor, running this play might help.

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Walking a mile in someone else's shoes is easier said than done (especially if they have small feet – oy!). Nonetheless, that's exactly what we need to do in order to make sure our work has the affect we're hoping for. Service providers need to think like service consumers. Makers need to think like users. Writers need to think like readers.

Creating an empathy map helps us step inside the heads of other people. What motivates them? What influences them? What do they need from our product or service? That's why empathy maps are used to better understand existing and target customers. They also serve as visual aids that you can keep on a wall and review or update as you learn more.

Empathy mapping relies heavily on a set of customer personas. (Atlassian teams should reference our persona library). If you don't have access to pre-defined personas, STOP RIGHT HERE. Without a codified picture of what this person's motivations and responsibilities are, everyone in the group will bring their own opinions and biases into the discussion. In other words, this exercise will be totally pointless.


Everyone on the team benefits from this. At minimum, you'll want to include:

  • Your project or service's full-time owner
  • Front-line contributors (designers, engineers, operators, customer support, recruiters, trainers, marketers, etc.)

Among the participants, designate a facilitator and a scribe for the session.

Smart product teams use empathy mapping to make sure they're building the right thing.
User Team

3 - 6

Pencil icon
Prep Time

15 min

Measure Clock

60 min

Difficulty Medium


Difficulty Easy

Running the play

Draw on interviews with actual customers before the session. The empathy map you create will organize the raw information from those interviews and turn them into insights your team can use when designing improvements to your product or service. Check out the Customer Interview and Contextual Inquiry Plays for more details.


Whiteboard or butcher's paper



Rubber chicken


Select personas and prep the room (15 min)

Select 1 - 3 personas to explore during the session. They can be closely related, or wildly different. It's up to you to determine what's best suited for your team.

Book a room for 90 minutes, to include 15 minutes room preparation, and 15 minutes capture and tidy-up. Invite participants for the 1 hour in between. Include a link to the personas you've selected and any user research or data you have for everyone to review prior to the session.

In the 15 minutes prior to the hour session, draw the empathy map on butcher paper. Include an extra map that you'll use for demonstration at the beginning of the session. Print any project relevant data and personas so they can serve as cues.

Step 1

Set the stage (5 min)

Explain that the group's task for the next hour is to immerse themselves in the target personas. This isn't a sterile tick-the-box exercise you can sleepwalk your way through! Really step into their skin and imagine how they feel.

Review the homework, and introduce the personas.

Step 2

Demonstrate by doing (5 min)

Before you break into sub-groups, ensure the team have detached themselves from their biases and are prepared to morph into their customer persona. To get into the mood, choose an example persona that is unrelated to your product or service and run through a quick role play.

For example, you could choose "a 42-year old who likes breakfast cereal". Walk through the sections of the empathy map. What is that persona...

  • Thinking and feeling about their worries or aspirations? (E.g., "Wants to stay healthy. Worries about their cholesterol level.")
  • Hearing while using your product or service, from their friends or boss? (E.g., "Friends say high-fiber cereals are bland and tough to chew.")
  • Seeing while using your product or service? (E.g., "Reads the cereal box, looking for nutritional information. Wonders how nutritious it is.")
  • Saying and doing in public or in private while using your product or service? (E.g., "Talking with his wife, and preparing for the kids school drop off run.")
  • Experiencing as a pain point or fear when using our product? (E.g., "Is annoyed our cereal gets soggy in milk quickly.")
  • Experiencing as a positive or gain when using our product? (E.g., "Tasty breakfast! Usually don't feel hungry again until lunch time.")
Step 3

Fill in the empathy maps (15 min)

Divide the group into pairs or trios. Work out which sub-group tackles which persona, and allow 10 - 15 mins minutes to fill in their empathy map, depending on the number of small groups you have (the more small groups the less time – you'll need to leave more time for everyone to share their maps with the larger group). 

Remember, you can create empathy maps for an existing product to better understand how your personas feel about it right now. Or, you can create the map with a new design in mind to help articulate how you want customers to feel about it in it's future state.

Pay special attention to pain points. The whole point of your project is to improve a product or service, right? Think about what the persona hears from friends or says about the product in terms of the pain they experience when using it.

Pro Tip

Feeling like a bit of fun? Bring in props like a hat, mask or shirt to wear so you really get into the customer persona's mindset.

Step 4

Present the empathy maps (30 min)

As each sub-group presents their map, encourage the full group to raise questions or items for discussion.

What insights does the map reveal? What assumptions are we making that need to be researched? Where do we have gaps in knowledge?

Content search
For example...

Here's an empathy map the Bitbucket team created for a persona that is young, eager, and energetic.

Step 5

Determine next steps (5 min)

Did you stumble on questions that need to be answered before moving ahead? Assumptions that need to be validated? Discuss as a group what you've learned from the empathy maps and how that can be applied as you work on your project or operate and improve your service.

Assign tasks, owners, and due dates as necessary.

Nailed it?

Be sure to run a full Health Monitor session or checkpoint with your team to see if you're improving.


Rather than having the facilitator or full-time owner select personas for the session, ask participants to choose them in advance of the session. This increases the group's sense of ownership and engagement. 

Note that this variation works best when you don't have super-specific goals for the empathy mapping session and are looking to get a broad picture of your customers.


Create JIRA issues to track the follow-up tasks.

If possible, hang the empathy maps in your team's area so you can refer to (and update!) them easily as the project rolls along.

Creative common license

This work, the 'Empathy Map', is a derivative of 'Empathy Map' by used under CC BY-SA 3.0. This 'Empathy Map' is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 by Atlassian.

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