Implementing user insights: how to get started in a single morning

Implementing user insights: how to get started in a single morning

If you want to start to integrate user insights and data into your work, you need a lot of time and lot of budget. You need to set up a project team, hire an agency, invest in some tools and get ready for some hard work and late nights, right?

Maybe not. If you’ve got the resources for a big project, go for it. But if you don’t, all you really need is a morning, a team of willing people, paper, pens and WiFi.

Even if you have the time and budget, it might still be wise to start small. The idea of a big project can be intimidating, like standing on the shore looking at a body of cold water between you and where you want to be.

In this post, I’ve laid out a method for creating two useful artefacts — empathy maps and user journey maps — in half a day. You don’t need any special skills or expertise. It’s a straightforward starting point for getting started with user insight. It’s not the most rigorous and all-encompassing method, but it will give you something you can act on right away, iterate over time and use to get buy-in for further investment.

First things first: what are empathy maps and user journey maps?

Empathy mapping is a good method to quickly visualise user needs and get people into the mindset of considering what users are thinking, feeling, doing, and hoping to achieve. An empathy map gives you the foundation for a persona. It’s easy to iterate later based on more extensive data and research.

A journey map is a representation of a typical experience that a user might have. It should give you a window onto a user’s thoughts, questions and actions over time as they go through an experience that might or might not involve your brand. For example, for an insurance company, a user journey might be a person who’s buying a car and needs to insure it, or someone who’s been in an accident and needs to make a claim.

Empathy maps and user journey maps work well together, because the journey map builds on the content of the empathy map, makes it chronological, and highlights the gaps and opportunities.

What they can do for you

Even a 101 version of an empathy and user journey map will help you better understand your users and be more empathetic to their needs. When you understand your users better — their feelings, their emotions, the steps they take — you’ll spot opportunities for new products, services and content. You’ll know how to pitch your brand to appeal to them. You’ll be able to write in a tone of voice that’s appropriate to their mood.

How to do it: a quick, cheap foundation

You can make a first draft of your maps in half day workshop. It’ll give you something to start using right away. But it should be a foundation you build on over time: do additional research, check your assumptions, find extra data and insights to make it better. You can even use it as the basis of a brief if you decide you want to go down the ‘big project’ route.

What you need

  • Half a day with no distractions. Mornings tend to be better than afternoons in terms of focus and energy.

  • A room — some breakout spaces would be good too.

  • Between six and 20 people. Try and get a mix of different roles and perspectives — if you have staff on the ground talking to customers/users or customer service team, bring them in.

  • Whatever you know already about your users and a short list of their goals — 4–6 is a good start.

  • Big printouts of the two templates I’ve linked to below (A1 is ideal).

  • Pens, pencils etc — you want to get people sketching if you can, so colour is a bonus.

  • Plentiful coffee, tea water and snacks.

1. Introduce your users and their goals

Start by introducing the group to your users and their goals. As I mentioned before, 4–6 goals is about right for a half-day workshop. This can be a basic outline. Going back to our insurance example, it might be something like this:

Emma is 21 and is about to buy her first car. She knows she needs to insure it, but has never bought insurance before.

They don’t need to be long or detailed. You’re just looking for a starting point to research from and build on. If you’ve got more detailed personas, demographic data or insight, that’s even better.

2. Give people a toolkit

Introduce people to some tools they can use to do lightning research during the workshop. Here are some ideas (these are free, have a free trial, or free features):

  • Buzzsumo — find the most shared content on a topic/from a website.

  • twXplorer, FollowerWonk, or Social Mention — social search tools that show you common terms, hashtags, links, help you explore users, etc.

  • Reddit — a great place to research topics and opinions on them.

  • Quora — see what questions people are asking about different topics, or your organisation.

  • Google Trends — see the popularity of search terms over time, related topics, etc.

  • Answer The Public — insights on what questions people are asking and how they feel about topics.

  • YouGov Profiler — create simple personas based on data from their extensive panel.

  • Google Analytics — demographics, location, device, behaviour, interests for your website users and more.

3. Create empathy maps

Split your team into groups and assign each one a user and a goal. Give each group an empathy mapping worksheet like this one.


[Download the template here]

Your task is to empathise with the user as they try to accomplish their goal. You need to think about (and use the tools to research):

  • What they are saying and doing. (Their actions, who they’re talking to, where they are, who they’re with.)

  • What they are thinking and feeling. (Their emotions, hopes and fears.)

  • What their goals are. (What they want to achieve, their motivation.)

  • What their pain points are. (The obstacles, problems, etc getting between them and their goal.)

Write everything down — there are no bad ideas. Draw if you like drawing.

Allow about an hour for this exercise. It’s crucial to manage time throughout this exercise, you need to make sure you get a quick draft of the whole thing.

At the end, gather everyone back together and ask them to give a 5-minute presentation back to the whole team, so that everyone can see the work that’s been done.

4. Take a break

It’s a good idea to take a quick break at this stage so people can grab more coffee, chat and hopefully recoup some energy for the next part of the workshop.

5. Map the user journey

Get your team back into their groups again and hand them a second template, like this one.


[Download the template here]

The task this time is to build on your empathy map and turn it into a more detailed and chronological journey map. This maps uses journey stages inspired by McKinsey’s customer decision journey. It’s important that it doesn’t end with the moment the user engages, buys, donates, etc. This is only half their journey — what happens next is equally important. It’s your chance to build a lasting relationship with them.

You can copy across information from your empathy map and put it against the stage of the journey where you think it’s happening.

You also need to think about the opportunities — this could just be a gap or a fully realised concept.

Again, write everything down, draw if you like, use the tools if you want to, and give people an hour.

After that hour, get everyone to present back to the group again.

6. Talk next steps

Make sure you round off the session with next steps. Ask for volunteers to write up the empathy and journey maps. (A tool like Uxpressia or Smaply will help with this). Make a plan to share them so that people can start using them.

Write up a list of questions or research topics that came up throughout the process. There’s bound to be a few burning questions — so make a plan for how you will get answers and work them back into your new artefacts.

Talk about broader ways to iterate the artefacts — perhaps you will meet once a quarter to work on this, or maybe one person wants to adopt it as a pet project.

Finally, ask people what they will start doing or do differently as a result of what they’ve learnt. Challenge people to make a commitment. This is one of the most important parts of the process — there’s no point having artefacts like these if no-one uses them.

So there it is — a method for getting started with user insight in a morning. If you give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes. And if you need someone to facilitate — get in touch, I love running workshops like these!

While you’re here, I’m running a conference as part of Brighton Digital Festival. It’s called Curio, and it’s about content and curiosity. I’d love to see you there.

SEO Q&A with Ric Rodriguez

SEO Q&A with Ric Rodriguez

Interview with Andy Lambert, ContentCal

Interview with Andy Lambert, ContentCal