2 – Empathy Map & Proto Persona

The aim of the project is to … conduct research to gain insight and empathy


As part of researching persona development and gathering an understanding of what strategy we needed to apply, Empathy Maps were repeatedly mentioned as being very useful at the beginning of the design process.

Empathy maps shed light on which problems to solve, and how to solve them.  While they generally work better when based on real data, empathy maps can still be built on your own existing knowledge, and help us gain insight into the user’s experience when using the website. Additionally, because they are quick to create, it is then easy to iterate them as you revise assumptions based on real data.

Creating our Empathy Map

With our project group split between Cork and Dublin, we decided on an approach that, while slightly more laborious, enabled us all to contribute simultaneously. Graham and I  took over a meeting room in our Cork office, while David joined us on the phone for a conference call. We had previously agreed to use the Thinks/Says/Does/Feels template for our empathy map, and I drew this quickly on a whiteboard.

We then agreed on 10 minutes of silent time, to write down our thoughts regarding each of the empathy map’s four quadrants. Graham and I followed the now standard UX approach of writing these thoughts on post-its and sticking them in the relevant quadrant. Meanwhile, David was writing his thoughts on a sheet of paper. Once the allotted time was over, David sent us a picture message of his own thoughts, which Graham and I quickly transferred to post-its and added to the whiteboard. We then sent a picture of this back to David.

The next step was to create a summary of our discoveries. Similarities and points of note were documented and grouped under the Thinks, Says, Does and Feels headings. These were the foundations that we built our proto-persona upon.

Each step of this process is detailed in the gallery below. Click on each image to zoom in.
All images are also available in higher quality here.


The Proto-Persona was built to capture the findings from the empathy maps. The aim was to create a persona that allowed us to clearly identify with the user and his or her goals. Enforcing our design thinking by injecting empathy into our process. We are able to identify gaps and highlight opportunities.

The first step in building the proto-persona was to review and build upon the essence of the research conducted. We humanised this under the headings of Bio, Goals, Frustrations, Personality and Motivations. From here, we began building a character that fitted. This is where Emily comes into play; Emily is the embodiment of our work. She depicts all of the user pain points, goals and motivations. Her story, background and personality are represented in the persona document. This is a great asset to the design process going forward.

Click on the image below for greater detail.


Creating our proto-persona at this stage in the process, via our empathy map work, gains us a valuable insight into our users. It enabled us to view their perspective and document it in a personable way. It also gives us a solid foundation upon which to base our upcoming user research. We will base our initial questionnaire and interview content on Emily, and then review and iterate as we retrieve real user data.

Our rough work for this section of the project can be found here.


  1. Nikki Knox (2014). How to Use Persona Empathy Mapping – UX Magazine
  2. Jerry Cao. The Practical Guide to Empathy Maps: 10-Minute User Personas – UXPin
  3. Empathy Maps for UX: A Tool for Organizing Users’ Thoughts and Emotions – Tadpull
  4. Sarah Plantenberg. Empathy maps – IBM
  5. Demian Farnworth (2014). Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head – Copyblogger
  6. Sebastian D’Amore (2016). Boost Empathy Quickly With Proto-Personas – Mural
  7. Jeff Gothelf (2012). Using Proto-Personas for Executive Alignment – UX Magazine

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