In July and August of 2018, I partnered with Customer Experience Strategist Tony Quiroz to lead and facilitate an Empathy Mapping workshop for the Phoenix Design Thinking & Innovative Collective meetup group.

The purpose of this workshop was to help meetup attendees understand what empathy mapping is and how to use it with their teams. 53 people from around the Valley attended the meetup.

We really wanted to provide attendees with a real-world example of empathy mapping, so we established a realistic goal for the empathy mapping activity. This goal was to answer the following question:

How do we get more people, communities, and spaces engaged in the Phoenix Design Thinking Meetup?

Preparing for the Workshop

Prior to the workshop, Tony and I collaborated together to create lightweight personas that we could create empathy maps for during the meetup. These personas were archetypes of the typical Phoenix Design Thinking meetup attendees.

Tony also created a presentation for the workshop that I reviewed and edited:

Finally, we gathered any assets we needed for the workshop, such as sticky notes, markers and poster paper.

The Empathy Mapping Activity

After Tony presented empathy mapping concepts, tips and examples at the beginning of the meetup, I kicked off the workshop portion.

First, I explained that we were going to create empathy maps to find out how we can best attract more attendees, communities and spaces to the design thinking meetup. I explained that by creating an empathy map for each of the meetup’s personas, we could easily discover effective ways to accomplish this goal.

After I presented the lightweight personas that Tony and I created, we broke everyone up into groups of 4-5 and assigned a persona to each group. We also provided each group with the tools they needed to create an empathy map for their assigned persona.

Next, we gave each group approximately 5 minutes to fill out each section of the empathy map for their assigned persona. During this time, Tony and I walked around the room to answer any questions the groups had.

Eventually, all 6 empathy maps were completed:

Identifying Key Themes

Once the brainstorming time ended, each group took turns presenting their persona’s empathy map. As they presented, Tony and I took notes to identify key themes among the personas.

Every time we identified a trait, hobby, emotion, etc. that at least two personas shared, we wrote it down on a sticky note. We also put stars on the sticky notes to notate how many personas related to that theme. At the end, the sticky notes with the most stars were our key takeaways.

I presented these key themes to all of our attendees, and then we discussed the following question as a group:

How can these newfound insights help us accomplish our goal?

During this discussion, most attendees realized that these insights made it easier to brainstorm marketing strategies for the Phoenix Design Thinking meetup that were likely to succeed. For example, the empathy maps revealed that the meetup’s personas really cared about staying relevant and up-to-date. As a result, we could fairly hypothesize that if we offered more meetups about trending topics or innovations, we could engage more people.

After we brainstormed a few more marketing ideas, we ended the workshop and opened the floor to questions. Some questions we received included:

  • How long should you spend on developing your personas?
  • How do you eliminate bias during empathy mapping?
  • How do you get stakeholder buy-in for empathy mapping?

Together, Tony and I were able to answer these questions effectively and provide attendees with actionable tips for success. If you would like to know how we answered them, ask me!

Key Takeaways

The thing that interested me most during this workshop is how each group decided to complete their empathy map. Some groups had very unique and creative strategies that I really appreciated. For example, one group realized that their persona played a few distinct roles such as teacher, mother, and entrepreneur. To ensure that they were considering all of these different roles during each portion of the empathy map, they made each team member a spokesperson for a particular role. I thought this was a useful way to consider all of the persona’s dynamics while completing the empathy map.

Another thing that surprised me during this activity is how hesitant our attendees were to make assumptions about their personas. Many attendees felt that it wasn’t fair to assume anything about their persona because it could be biased or inaccurate. Tony and I understood this concern, and it was definitely valid, but we reminded attendees that because this is a mock workshop to practice the empathy mapping process, it is okay to assume things. However, in a real empathy mapping exercise, it is definitely recommended that you invest more time into primary research and secondary research to minimize assumptions and bias.


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