Design thinking helps solve complex problems through a non-linear process that is based on understanding of customers or empathy, further used to question assumptions, reframe the problem and then generate an innovative solution, validated with users.
Since the problem being solved is rarely the designer’s own problem, successful solution is preconditioned by deep understanding, empathy for the customer, i.e. answers to who is the customer, what are their needs, what is the environment and context surrounding these needs. The best solutions come from the best insights into human needs.
The first step towards this goal is research:
- Observe customers;
- Engage with customers, talk to them;
- Immerse, put oneself into customer’s shoes.
Good research should unveil how customers think and act: what they want, what they value, what they hear in their environment, what they say, how they act, what are their needs, how they feel, even if it is different from what they say or do. Insights especially valid for problem solving are not easy to perceive, because researchers unconsciously disregard, filter out, some pieces of information. This is why it is important to be extra careful, listen and observe without judgement, questioning everything, curious the whole time and listening, actively. Research work, as well as synthesis of the results afterwards is, ideally, a group exercise.
Empathy map is a great tool to synthesise research results, as it helps organise, group retrieved data, creating easily one holistic view of the customer and their needs. This is how insights valuable for future problem-solving work are recognised.
Number of different, both simple and more complex templates for empathy mapping can be found online. However, anyone can make their Empathy map.
Work area (e.g. whiteboard or a bigger sheet of paper) is divided into four quadrants representing four areas:
A customer is placed in the centre with an illustration and/or some basic information. The four quadrants around the customer are populated by information retrieved. Thoughts (or beliefs) and feelings could not be directly observed, but they are inferred from observed verbal and non-verbal signs. Areas of what is seen and heard can be added, depicting the environmental influence, or the context.
Empathy map includes also identified needs and insights.
Needs are recognised from patterns or contradictions observed in research mapping. They are physical and emotional necessities. Needs will help better define the problem, but it is important to articulate them as needs, not presuming the solution.
Insights are inconsistencies or surprising facts worth being noted as these can also be valuable when defining the problem.
Empathy map created this way presents deep insight into the customer, their surroundings and needs, and what needs to be achieved to solve the problem.
Empathy map is often the first step towards creation of a persona, a fictious representation of a customer type, based on research. As an archetype, a persona is like a picture of a real person, while actually it is a personification of the research findings, merging together traits and actions of a certain customer category relevant for the problem being solved. Persona is a tool used in ideation process helping communication towards the solution. It helps to ask the right questions and get adequate answers e.g.: How would Petar, Ana, Maria (personas) act, experience xx?
Persona is defined with:
- Name, picture;
- Details about education, family, lifestyle, interests, values, goals, needs, limitations, wishes, attitudes and behaviour patterns;
- Description of a typical day or behaviour relevant for the problem being solved, also a story told to make persona livelier, not a mere research product.
Good persona can easily be imagined in different environments and scenarios. Visually it can be organised in various forms. Ready-made templates can be downloaded from the internet, or just arranged as suitable. Some customer-focused companies keep their personas as life-sized figures in the offices, as a reminder of the customers they are working for.