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Last updated on 6/30/20

Examine Users and Experiences

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Whenever you're hosting a workshop, remember there are countless tools you can use. Narrowing it down to a couple will help you avoid overwhelming participants and create a stronger workshop experience. Remember, the focus should be on users and their experience.

The importance of empathy

As a designer, it's important to remember that you are designing for others, not for yourself. It can be challenging to imagine what lives are like for those who do not live them as you do.

Empathy Mindset from IDEO.org. "If you're not surprised, I'd hazard to guess you're doing it wrong." [1:26 min]

Every workshop will be different. Some will last a day, and others will last a week. Whenever possible, build in ways to talk to, and learn, from users. Simple ways to gain empathy with users:

  • Spend time with them (hours, days, weeks) – get away from your desk and go to them! (This is also known as conducting ethnography or contextual inquiry).

  • Have someone give you a "tour" of their world or tell you about a typical day in their life.

  • Conduct interviews (if you can't do them in person, digital tools make it easy – try to see their face and setting when possible).

  • Invite users to create a glimpse into their world through "video diaries."

Can you send users out to conduct quick research?  If not, what "pre-work" can you assign participants before a workshop starts? This may not work in every workshop context. However, if participants rise to the challenge and select one of the above options, you'll begin your workshop with a better understanding of how you might address the problem. You also have the opportunity to share these lessons in empathy with others.

The goal of building empathy is that you will be able to make more informed decisions about the direction you will take your prototype inspired by actual users.

Empathy maps

An empathy map is a tool used to understand end-users and customers from a more holistic approach. The goal is to understand the user perspective through what they say, think, do, and feel.

There are multiple approaches, but the Nielsen Norman Group model for empathy maps is a good place to start. Their approach is divided into four quadrants: says, thinks, does, and feels (another variation adds a box at the bottom to include goals). The user is named in the center of the diagram. You can conduct this exercises with different users in mind, but ultimately, you want to consider which user(s) to focus on based on how they relate to the problem you are trying to solve.

From there participants were asked:

  • What does the user say?

  • What does the user think?

  • What does the user do? (behaviors, habits)

  • What does the user feel? (emotion)

Including actual quotes is a great way to integrate the voice and perspective of the user into the empathy map. Place one idea per sticky note on to the map and allow participants to question if something is placed in the right section. Reading what others participants place on the empathy map can spark other ideas you may not have considered.

empathy map with 4 quadrants, and sticky notes in each: say, think, feel, do
Filled in empathy map. This took less than 10 minutes for the group to complete.

Set a time limit for the exercise which can be completed rather quickly. You may want to take a pause, have a few participants share their ideas or impressions, then keep building on the map.

Multiple empathy maps could be created for different users. The same exercise could be completed for the business owner to ensure you're keeping their perspective in mind.

Experience maps

Experience maps are a tool that allows teams to work together to examine an experience – physical or digital – from the user or customer perspective, breaking it down into different phases. Experience maps work a lot like journey maps but use a column system of organizing information into different ways of thinking about it.

In each column, participants examine each step of the experience:

  • ENTICE: What attracts you or pulls you into the experience?

  • ENTER: What is your experience when you enter the space? (Consider everything including sounds, scents, ambiance, space, etc.)

  • ENGAGE: How does the product or service activity engage or interact with the user/visitor?

  • EXIT: What happens when you leave? What is the experience like? Is it memorable? Does it make you want to come back?

  • EXTEND: How are you encouraged to come back? Are there any promotions or discounts? Reminders? Alerts?

Participants can methodically work through the exercise together column by column, or work individually. They should write ideas on sticky notes (one idea per note) and place them on the chart before reconvening and having a group discussion. You may uncover aspects you hadn't considered as a result of the group discussions. This is particularly valuable if you have research notes and observations that you can integrate to create richer data.

Chart with sticky notes in each relevant column.
Filled in experience map. The +/- were assigned in the last step to determine the emotional charge of each observation.

Once the chart has been filled in, it's valuable for teams to take a closer look at opportunities, missed opportunities, or unexpected discoveries. You may want to move sticky notes with negative experiences towards the bottom of the chart. Looking for the emotional charge can be an interesting way to uncover opportunities and think about problems in different ways. Typically, there's more room for improvement in actions that have a negative charge.

Teams could compare experiences with those of a competitor or look at a different industry for inspiration. They can also develop their own evaluation tools and examine the experience in ways previously not considered.

Let's recap!

  • The format of your workshop may limit the research (empathy building) you can conduct during your time together. Consider how you can deal with those constraints to keep the process human and user-centric.

  • Empathy maps are useful to help think about what users say, think, feel, and do. These should be based on observations and interviews in order to avoid making assumptions.

  • Experience maps break down the journey and experience of the user into steps, from what attracts the user to what keeps them coming back, in order to uncover opportunities you may not have otherwise considered.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement