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Empathy Map to Action Map

Atlas Workshops trips are divided into the three phases of the design process: Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation. In each phase we have design meetings during which we introduce students to different design activities. The activities vary depending on the project. We’ve done card sorts (and themed card sorts), 45 minute designs, and post ups. The activities, though based on ideas from Gamestorming and IDEO and other UX entities, tend to take on a life of their own as we adapt them to the students’ needs. Our most recent invention was the “action map,” a variation on an empathy map.

Empathy mapping is an activity to help designers and clients better understand the end user. It typically occurs early on in the process, to identify what we know (or think we know) about what a user thinks, feels, sees, and does when interacting with the product or service.

As we moved through the Ideation phase of this past project in Croatia, our students were beginning to brainstorm what tourists might do for fun in Korcula, without ruining the local charm of the island. They were working off big picture ideas, but were struggling to move beyond the basics. For example, one group was building their idea off the theme of “local culture,” but they could only think of two ideas: restaurants and swimming. Their ideas were constrained by their mental model of what a “vacation” is and what a “tourist” wants.

I introduced them to empathy mapping, thinking that if they could see the town through the eyes of the person, they could move beyond these conventional ideas. The students ran with it – but instead of telling me what the end user saw/did/thought/felt, they used the prompt to brainstorm! Suddenly we had lists of ideas. A tourist wants to feel the sand, feel a spa treatment, do a class on jewelry making, do a scuba diving lesson, thinks about the island’s history, and so on. By changing the question from “what does the user think/feel/see/do in this moment” to “what does the user want to think/feel/see/do,” we changed from empathy mapping to action mapping.

I should really start paying these students for the privilege of learning from them.

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, and she serves as managing editor at UX Booth, a publication about all areas of user experience. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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