3 Tools to Help Non-Designers Use Empathy to Innovate!

In recent years keywords such as: “persona” and “empathy” have been trending in the User-Centric Design world (1). Unfortunately, however, in today’s global marketplace, when some of the big companies are asked to define their target audience,  it’s shocking to see how many business owners and marketing managers don’t have a clear answer of who they are targeting. As industry experts, we often come across marketing managers who define their target audience as the “general public”. Some would even use our all-time-favorite: “everyone, everywhere” when filling our brief and setting their target audience.

Little do they know that when one tries to communicate to everyone and anyone, one ends up with a message that resonates with NO ONE
— Battarbee, Katja et.al

At Blue Hat, our aim is to utilize design as a thinking process through which we can empower businesses by helping them understand, identify and respond to their target audience’s needs. Through our “design empathy” research approach, we try to help our clients identify those needs by drawing “upon people’s real-world experiences to address modern challenges" (2). As part of our brand ethos, we, Blue Hatters, firmly believe that:

Only when companies allow a deep emotional understanding of their target audience’s needs that they can inspire and ultimately innovate
— Battarbee, Katja et.al

Now, in theory, all of this sounds great. However, if you have managed to follow me this far you must be wondering about the process we adopt in order to zero in on our clients’ target audience and identify their needs. The answer is simple: We do so by using these 3 simple tools: User Personas, Empathy Mapping, and Extreme Personas.

1. Start by Creating a User Persona from your Target Audience

a. Define your target audience: End-Users vs. Customers

The first thing one needs to understand when defining a target audience is to differentiate between “customer” and “user”. That is learning how to separate the people giving you money, who are known as “customers” from the people using your product/service, and who are generally known as “end-users”.  Often, the people using your product/service might not be the people paying for it”(3) . An easy exercise to help you note the differences is to consider yourself as a pet shop owner. While your services and products are used by pets  (your end-users),  nevertheless, your aim is to appeal to their owners (your customers), who will eventually pay for those services/products. Given the product/service at hand your aim here is to focus on your customer rather than your end-user.

End-User: Dog vs Customer: Dog Owner - Image Source:  wcvh.com.au

End-User: Dog vs Customer: Dog Owner - Image Source: wcvh.com.au

b. Create a user persona

Once your target audience is set, you will need to create your persona (s). Personas are inspired from real people with backgrounds, goals, and values. They are a fabricated model of end-users that are created to identify motivations, expectations, and goals by determining demographics, attributes, and needs (4). Think of your persona as a singular icon representative of an entire group within your target audience.  Personas can only be built after an exhaustive observation of the potential users (4)

For example, if you are designing a new customer-journey experience at the ER, then, you need to visualize your persona.  She could be: 


Name: Hanna  

Age: 31 

Lives in Beirut

Occupation: 3rd grade teacher  

Marital status: Married (husband works overseas)  

Children: 1 (7 months old boy)

Lifestyle: Busy Schedule

Behavior: Moderately web savvy - Worries too much - She is  OCD -  Has not achieved a right balance between work and home just yet.

Attributes: She recently completed her maternity leave - Her child just started teething, which is leaving him with a mild fever, always irritated and fussing, refusing food and having sleep problems.

Needs: Hanna wants to ensure that her newborn will have access to proper medical assistance, especially at night when things always get worse and she is alone.

c. How do they help?

Carefully researched and developed personas help guide the design process by shifting your attention and focus directly to the end-user. They allow you to address their goals and needs and most importantly help you substantiate your decision when presenting your rationale to clients.

Persona Tool -  Feel free to download it and use it!

Persona Tool - Feel free to download it and use it!


2. Take it up a Notch and Create a Persona Empathy Map

a. What is empathy mapping?

“Empathy is at the heart of design”(1). Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, one can never solve problems entirely or provide adequate solutions. Hence, creating a persona is not enough and must be followed by an empathy map.  Empathy mapping differs from personas in that it focuses on uncovering the sensory information and experience of your users. While personas focus on interests, skills, personality, dreams and environment, empathy maps reveal what your persona sees, thinks,feels, hears, gains, and is challenged by.

b. How do we use it?

Consider the sensory experiences of your persona. What do they think and feel? See? Say and do? What do they hear? Then, try to visualize what are their challenges and obstacles, and what is it that they want to gain from your service/product?

Once the map is complete you will have an ‘empathy mapped’ persona and you will be able to work on analyzing this map and thinking of how to apply the results to your product, service or problem in a way that serves the need of your persona(s).

Empathy Map -   Feel free to download it and use it!

Empathy Map - Feel free to download it and use it!

3. Seal the Deal by Creating an Extreme Character Persona

a. What is an extreme persona?

if you’re looking to innovate particularly heavily, you might want to push the boundaries of your product, service or problem. To do so you will need to stress the importance of empathy in making sure you understand your target audience as human beings rather than a “set of statistics”(5). Hence, one effective way that could help you feel empathy towards your target audience when designing a product/service is creating an extreme persona. 

Extreme personas will often describe minority, extreme or atypical behaviours amongst your users – really good personas are often about as far from the norm as you can get. If you are designing a concept for a restaurant, your extreme persona could be someone who suffers from dairy, nuts, or gluten allergy-- and that's only the start. It can be someone who is hot-tempered, or suffers from some sort of a physical disability. If you ensure that your concept stands the test of extreme persona, then you have got yourself a winner.

How Extreme can you get? Well, think along the lines of Darth Vader (just kidding) - Image Source: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/

How Extreme can you get? Well, think along the lines of Darth Vader (just kidding) - Image Source: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/


b. How does it help?

Rather than creating a persona “we feel represents the average of the group” why not use “someone who represents an extreme either because this extreme is aspirational or because it raises particular issues that need to be addressed”(5). The use of “extreme personas” has proven again and again to be very “powerful when addressing issues of universality in design”(5). Universality in design “refers to the creation of products that can be used by disabled people and non-disabled people alike”(5).

Can you imagine that many of the products we take for granted today and use in our everyday life were actually intended to help people suffering from some sort of a disability. A great example would be the famous TV remote control that was designed for disabled people but proved to be successful with everyone. Another example, is Good Grips kitchen tools which were originally designed to help people suffering from arthritis, however, since they were so easy to manage, these tools proved to be quite popular with professional chefs (5).

The Remote Control was first was designed for disabled people Source: blogcdn.com

The Remote Control was first was designed for disabled people Source: blogcdn.com


By adopting these 3 simple empathy tools, you will be able to bridge the gap between your target audience’s needs and your client’s brand, service or product. These tools will help you provide intuitive solutions that will make sense and resonate with your audience by drawing upon people’s real-world experiences to address modern challenges. It is only when companies allow a deep emotional understanding of people’s needs to inspire them—and transform their work, their teams, and even their organization at large—they unlock the creative capacity for innovation (2).That’s why we invite you to download any of our templates to ensure your design strategies, products, and services are human-centred.



1Brown, Tim http://designthinking.ideo.com/?p=1008

2Battarbee, Katja et.al https://www.ideo.com/images/uploads/news/pdfs/Empathy_on_the_Edge.pdf

3Maurya, Ash http://leanstack.com/why-lean-canvas/

4O’Grady Jenn, Ken A Designer’s Research Manual Succeed in Design by Knowing your Clients and what they Really Need: 2009.

5Jordan, Patrick W. How to Make Brilliant Stuff that People Love and Make Big Money out of it. England: 200

Thumbnail and Profile Picture Reference: https://ux.sears.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Empathy.jpeg