Persona Empathy Mapping

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”

- Theodore Roosevelt

Empathy — it’s a buzzword in the UX design world. Everybody’s doing it! But what exactly are they doing? There isn’t a quick “Empathy Filter” that we can apply to our work or our team, no formula to pump out results, and no magic words to bring it forth. There is, however, a simple workshop activity that you can facilitate with stakeholders (or anyone responsible for product development, really) to build empathy for your end users. We call it Persona Empathy Mapping.

Empathy Mapping helps us consider how other people are thinking and feeling. Typically, research notes are categorized based on what the research interviewees were thinking, feeling, doing, seeing, and hearing as they engaged with your product. It helps your team zoom out from focusing on behaviors to consider the users’ emotions and experience as well. I first learned about it from Dave Gray’s Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers and it’s gotten more press lately due to Alex Osterwalder’s book, Business Model Generation.

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UX: Not just for adults

“I love rainbow chard! It tastes really good if you make it right,” an 8-year old Cooper U student assures me. I still feel reluctant about this bitter-tasting vegetable, but this student’s enthusiasm is mighty hard to resist. Even more charming is the mobile app game, “Arty-choke”, she and her classmates designed. In it, you peel artichokes as you search for hearts, gaining points and level advancements as your peel speed increases! This is just one of the mobile app games that 25 children designed to encourage their personas to eat veggies in our workshop for 2nd graders at Cooper U.

Alan Cooper gave an introduction to design after the children took a quick tour of our office:

Alan: “Okay guys, what is design?”
8-year old: “Um… making things?
Alan: “How is it different from art?”
8-year old: “Art is self expression. Design is… more than that (giggle giggle)?”
Alan: “Raise your hand if you are a designer.”
Two children boldly raise their hands. “I’m a designer!” announces one. “I make lots of stuff!” declares the other.

Workshop Design Principles

  1. Design to solve problems, even common problems such as trying to eat more veggies. We thought our second graders were uniquely able to relate and respond to this universal food challenge. “Gross, bitter, squishy, and tasteless” were some of the words they enthusiastically used to describe vegetables.
  2. Design for others, not just ourselves. The kids closed their eyes and imagined a person, a sibling or friend, who hates veggies. These ideas helped us create two personas, Ryan and Jesse, as a class. Each group then picked a specific veggie to focus on for the day: avocado, cucumber, squash, artichoke, bok choy, broccoli, zucchini or red pepper.
  3. Work with others on ideas, don’t just rely on yourself. They put their imaginations and experiences to work as they created personas and mobile app templates in teams of 3.

With these three principles, their own personas, veggies, and an explanatory sketch of an existing mobile app game, the kids were ready to design!

Team Personas

Bob: Bob has a mohawk and spends a lot of time sleeping. He loves to eat carrots because his mom lets him eat them in bed. He hates leaf veggies, though, because they remind him of brains. Gross!

Jake: A tough, athlete basketball player, Jake boldly rocks blue hair and skull t-shirts. He also loves carrots but hates tomatoes because they are too soft-skinned for his taste.

Julianna: Juliana loves to dance and dreams of becoming a ballerina. She has a diverse palate that includes rainbow chard (her favorite veggie!) but not peas – they are mushy and tasteless!

Team Presentations

Each group introduced their personas, veggie, and game despite long outbreaks of nervous giggles and clammy shyness.

Red Pepper Ninja app concept

  1. Chop up the red pepper.
  2. Try to squirt ranch on it as it moves around the screen.
  3. Then Pac-Man tries to steal it away from Tommy (persona) before he can eat it.

Broccoli Giant app concept

  1. Children turn into monsters when they eat broccoli.
  2. As monsters, they search for more broccoli so that they can become stronger. The player helps the kid-monsters get more broccoli.
  3. There is a time limit, and you can find coins to help you advance to the next level.

Bok Choy app concept

  1. Veggies drop down from the sky and you guide them into the mouths of monsters.
  2. The monsters disappear after they eat the veggies. The veggies saved you!
  3. Enter “mystery mode” where Pac-Man comes in and tries to steal the veggies.

Cucumber Market app concept

  1. Create an avatar. Buy a farm and seed and supplies. Water it.
  2. Keep watering it.
  3. After it grows, take it to market and sell it for $11. Then plant more seeds.


Their games were bold, wildly creative and inspiring. Most had gesture based interfaces that included animations. Simple icons guided the player along – there was little need for text. Audio feedback let the players know if they were being successful or not, and there was usually a time challenge to intensify the gaming experience.  I thought it was fun that nearly every game had a chasing component (you either aided the chase or hindered it) as well as some sort of villain (monster, alien, or Pac Man). I’d love to see what additional screen shots they’d create if only given more time!

At the conclusion of the class we again asked: “Raise your hand if you are a designer.” Armed with our key design principles and a portfolio that includes a persona and a mobile app (with guest appearances from Pac-Man, veggie loving monsters, ninjas and avatars), these 8-years olds are ready to pursue a lifetime of creative pursuits as designers.

Cooper U Class of 2022

All class photos are posted on Flickr UX: Not just for adults

An insider’s view of Cooper U

From the perspective of Cooper intern, Nikki Knox

I recently became Cooper’s first design education intern, and my task this summer is to contribute to the development of Cooper U courses. Last week, I sat in on the Interaction Design course when it was taught in-house at Cooper. I have a background in healthcare architecture and medical products, so Cooper U’s curriculum felt familiar to me and resonated with my own motivations for becoming a designer. What was new to me were the tools for guiding the creative process and the ways in which the instructors encouraged collaboration and discussion. I jotted down a few thoughts to share with anyone who is considering taking the course.


I know what it’s like to feel stuck on old ideas, so I appreciated the “Pretend it’s Magic” exercise. It’s intended to spark creativity in unexpected ways, and to kickstart the generation of big ideas. In the class, we were asked to consider what a “magic” entertainment system would look like. My group explored “disappearing” TV entertainment modules that only leave a 3D projection to engage with. We also imagined a screening system that gets jealous when other viewing devices are present. No more watching TV and using your laptop at the same time – it might make the TV angry! These ideas may seem silly, yet they can help any team overcome self-imposed limitations and reconsider the range of possibility.


We also got in-depth experience in creating personas, providing a way to keep the end-user involved in the product from start to finish. Our team’s persona, DeAndra, is a 35-year-old photographer from Portland, Oregon. Her quote, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I have many eyes,” summarizes her perspective and beliefs about the photos she takes. She played a vital role in guiding the design of Photo Book, a project that is part of the class. Features such as editing and tagging were designed with DeAndra in mind, helping us avoid designs based on our own preferences and experiences.

Overall, I found that curriculum fostered curiosity, created a sense of community, and invited storytelling based on design experience. We were encouraged to reflect on our own design processes and to inquire about those of others, which enabled us to learn from Cooper as well as each other.

Of all the conversations we had, it was the questions about the designer’s role in product development that intrigued me the most. In comparison to architecture, interaction design is a new and rapidly expanding field; designers and companies both struggle with determining the relationship between design, business, and engineering. How do engineers and designers work together? What can company executives contribute to the process? How are product managers and marketing departments influencing design? In the class, we explored techniques to help facilitate conversations, as well as tools to help drive and focus design.


Ultimately, Cooper U isn’t about providing standardized answers; it’s more about providing a safe platform upon which big questions could be explored in a group setting. The class reinforced my belief that design extends far beyond implementing creative ideas. The designer’s role can be that of a facilitator — navigating people, resources and ideas through a complicated web of possibilities and responsibilities. I was inspired, and I think you will be, too.

Upcoming IxD (Interaction Design) Courses:

Nov 6-9; Dec 3-6 in Sydney, Australia; Dec 4-7; Jan 15-18; Feb 19-22
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