Design Thinking and Product Design: Empathize Methods

Design Thinking and Product Design: Empathize Methods 

Thought Leadership

By Qusai Malahmeh, co-founder of menalab

We previously discussed the significance of the Empathy phase in the design thinking process. We will now explore some of the most common and effective Empathize methods and techniques.

Each of these methods is crucial to comprehend user needs and crafting user-centered solutions in the field of product development. By integrating them, we aim to foster a more empathetic and insightful design process, ultimately leading to better outcomes for the project at hand.




Interviews are a powerful method to gain deep, qualitative insights into the needs, challenges, and goals of potential users and stakeholders. By conducting one-on-one discussions, we can explore specific aspects of their experiences in detail, allowing for a nuanced understanding that might not be captured through other methods.

Interviews will involve reaching out to designers, artists, and startups who are the primary users of the design prototype development process. During these interviews, we tend to ask open-ended questions to encourage detailed responses and uncover underlying motivations, frustrations, and desires. 


  • “Can you describe a recent project where you developed a product prototype? What challenges did you encounter?”

  • “What tools or resources do you currently use in your design process, and how effective are they?”

  • “What would make the product development process easier or more efficient for you?”


  • Alignment. By actively listening and probing deeper into their responses, we can gather valuable insights that reveal not just what users need, but why they need it. This information is essential for identifying pain points and areas for improvement, ensuring that the solutions we design are truly aligned with user needs.

  • Rapport Building. Interviews also provide an opportunity to build rapport with users, fostering a sense of collaboration and trust. This can lead to more candid and insightful feedback, as users feel more comfortable sharing their honest opinions and experiences.

  • Deeper Understanding. Incorporating interviews into the Empathize phase will help create a solid foundation of user understanding, guiding the design and development process towards more effective and user-centered outcomes.


Observation involves watching users as they interact with their environments, tools, and processes. This method provides an opportunity to see firsthand how users behave and identify challenges they face in real time, which might not be explicitly mentioned during interviews.

Observing designers, artists, and startups while they work on developing product prototypes might involve visiting their studios or workplaces, attending design workshops, or shadowing them during collaborative sessions. 


  • Understanding Context. By observing users in their natural environment, we can gain a clearer understanding of the context in which they operate: the physical space, the tools they use, and the workflow they follow. It helps identify any environmental or contextual factors that influence their work.

  • Identifying Unspoken Needs. Often, users might not be fully aware of certain challenges or might not articulate them during interviews: inefficiencies in their workflow, frequent interruptions, or ergonomic problems with their tools.

  • Capturing Real Behaviors. Watching users as they perform tasks provides a realistic view of their behaviors, habits, and interactions. It reveals how they solve problems, adapt to challenges, and their creative processes. This information is crucial to design solutions that fit naturally into their existing workflows.

To effectively conduct observations, take detailed notes and, if possible, record sessions (with the users’ permission) to capture specific actions and reactions. We look for patterns in behavior, common obstacles, and areas where users improvise or work around limitations.


Surveys are an effective way to collect quantitative data from a larger group of users, providing a broader perspective on their needs, preferences, and experiences. While interviews and observations provide deep, qualitative insights, surveys can help validate these findings and reveal trends that may not be evident from a smaller sample size.

You should plan to distribute the surveys to a broader audience, including designers, artists, and startups who might benefit from the design prototype development process. 


  • Broad Insights. Surveys allow you to reach a larger number of participants, capturing a diverse range of opinions and experiences. This broadens your understanding of user needs and ensures that results represent the target user group.

  • Trends Identification. By analyzing survey answers, we can identify common patterns and trends. For example, if many participants indicate that a particular tool is difficult to use or that a particular step in the process takes too long, this highlights areas for improvement.

  • Data Measurement. Surveys provide numerical data that can be analyzed statistically. This helps measure the extent of certain issues or the popularity of certain features. For example, if 80% of participants express dissatisfaction with a particular aspect of the process, this indicates there is significant room for concern.

  • Hypothesis Validation. Ideas gained from interviews and observations can be tested through surveys. For example, if an interview reveals that users are having difficulty engaging with a particular software, the survey can determine how common this problem is among the broader user base.

  • Efficient Feedback Collection. Surveys are a quick and effective way to collect feedback. They can be distributed online, reaching participants who may not otherwise be accessible for interviews or observations. This is particularly useful for gathering input from geographically dispersed users.

To design an effective questionnaire:

  • Make it brief: Make sure the survey is short and to the point, which encourages higher response rates.

  • Use clear, focused questions: Include closed-ended questions (such as multiple choice and rating scales) for quantitative data, and open-ended questions for additional qualitative insights.

  • Trial the survey: Test it with a small group first to identify any ambiguities or problems with the questions.

  • Analyze data: Use statistical tools to analyze responses, looking for important patterns and correlations.

We can complement the deep insights gained from interviews and observations with broad quantitative data. This combined approach ensures a comprehensive understanding of user needs, informing the design process with detailed and wide-ranging perspectives.

Empathy Mapping

Empathy mapping is a visual tool used to capture a holistic view of users’ experiences, emotions, and behaviors. This method helps synthesize data from interviews, observations, and surveys into a comprehensive understanding of the users’ perspectives. An empathy map typically includes sections for what users say, think, feel, and do, providing a structured way to organize and analyze user insights.

Creating empathy maps involves the following steps:

  • Collecting data: Gather information from interviews, observations, and surveys. This data includes direct quotes from users, observed behaviors, expressed emotions, and inferred thoughts.

  • Creating the map: Draw a large empathy map with sections for “Says,” “Thinks,” “Feels,” and “Does.”

    • Says: Document direct quotes from users that reveal their thoughts and feelings.

    • Thinks: Note what users might be thinking, based on their actions and words. This includes their beliefs, motivations, and concerns.

    • Feels: Capture the emotions users express or that you infer from their behavior. This helps us understand their emotional journey.

    • Does: Record users’ actions and behaviors. This includes how they interact with their environment and the tools they use.

  • Analyzing patterns: Look for patterns and correlations across the different sections of the empathy map. This can reveal deeper insights into user needs and challenges.

  • Identifying opportunities: Use the empathy map to identify opportunities for improvement or innovation. Understanding the users’ pain points and desires can guide the design process to better meet their needs.


  • Holistic View. Provides a comprehensive understanding of users’ experiences, incorporating multiple perspectives.

  • User-Centered Design. Helps keep the focus on the users’ needs and emotions throughout the design process.

  • Collaboration. Serves as a collaborative tool, allowing team members to contribute their insights and align on user understanding.

  • Problem Identification. Highlights pain points and areas for improvement, guiding the design of more effective solutions.

The empathy mapping process is a powerful tool that helps bridge the gap between designers and their audiences. By immersing ourselves in the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of our users, we gain invaluable insights that drive innovative and user-centered design. 

As we refine our techniques and methodologies, from the way we conduct interviews to how we visually represent data, we continue to enhance the effectiveness of our approach. Ultimately, the goal is to create products and services that truly resonate with our users, fostering a deeper connection and delivering meaningful value. As we move forward, let us remember that empathy is not just a method but a mindset, guiding us to design with compassion and understanding at the heart of our work.


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