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Practice empathetic mindsets

An empathy map and a few activities that help you think like stakeholders in your space

DFA UC Davis
An empathy map and a few activities that help you think like stakeholders in your space


Empathy is the ability to feel what another person feels and to share their perspective. It is at the heart of human-centered design. Designers are becoming more and more aware of the fact that knowing the needs, desires, and reactions of users create more useful designs. Solutions based in empathy are much more likely to be impactful since they are grounded in user behavior and motivation. Practicing empathy is especially important when your stakeholders’ age, gender, culture, ability, or circumstance differs from your own.


Effective ways to do this include:
  1. Put yourself in the mind of another person!
  • Do what your users do! Role play and participatory observation are great ways to get new perspective on a situation.
  • Considering the four different aspects of a user’s process: what a person says, feels, thinks, and does [1]
  • In order to understand the physical restrictions of older adults, teams in the past have worn multiple rubber gloves to simulate limited joint movement while opening jars.
  1. Have 2+ new ways of looking at a problem from your user's perspective
  • Reflect and check your assumptions. Your team will be more open to empathizing by being aware of your assumptions or how you might allow your own biases to affect decisions. 
  • Any differences in how your team expects a person to feel or act and how that person actually does can lead to key insights. Be sure you consider:
  • What were you saying, feeling, thinking, doing, seeing, and hearing?
  • What unexpected things happened during the tasks you were trying to do?
  • What was different or more difficult than we were expecting? How so?

[1] Verplank, Bill. “Interaction Design Sketchbook.” (unpublished manuscript, fall 2003)
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