An experience of empathy mapping

Ever imagined you were visually impaired or unable to speak? How would you cope? For us to understand what people with physical challenges experience, we have to empathize with them. According to the Cambridge dictionary, empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.

A few weeks back in my design thinking class, we carried out a role play on empathy mapping with the primary purpose of having a bathroom experience for three persona roles, namely;

  • Visually impaired persona (we blindfolded one of our colleagues)
  • Robot whose role was to follow nonverbal instructions from the support persona who does not speak(mute)
  • Support persona (mute) was to give nonverbal instructions to the robot to replicate the same to the visually impaired persona.

Upon returning from the bathroom, we did an empathy mapping to reflect and understand each persona’s experience and behavior under the circumstances and to also appreciate the five senses (smell, sight, touch, hearing and taste.

Team DT4 sharing their empathy mapping experience after the role play

Our experience is summarized below;

Who are we empathizing with?

Under the circumstances, we were empathizing with all the three personas. The visually impaired persona who depended on the robot for movement, the robot who depended on the support persona and could not independently make decisions, and the support persona who could only use nonverbal communication to the robot and hoping that the instructions would be followed. 

What do they need to do?

The visually impaired persona needed to use the bathroom and both the robot and support persona had to accompany her to that space.

What do they do?

Since the visually impaired persona was already worried of her movement, her sense of smell and touch became more alert to the environment. While in the bathroom, she used her hands to touch the walls to make sure that she had been brought to the right place. She also felt need for privacy and locked out the two personas.

What do they hear?

The visually impaired persona was cautious of the environment and therefore her hearing sense was more alert in hearing noise within the surrounding, doors opening and closing, hearing movements and hearing communication from the robot.

What do they smell?

Major emphasis on visually impaired persona had high sense of smell from the surrounding and could differentiate the smell in the bathroom from that of the environment.

What do they see?

The robot saw and followed instructions from the support persona as the support persona had the visual directions.

What do they say?

Emphasis on the visually impaired persona became more aware and alert of her environment by asking several questions as a way of reassurance that she was actually being led to the bathroom.

What do they think and feel?

This captured our emotional state and what worried us throughout the experience. The robot did not think or feel because it was following instructions; the support persona had to make quick judgments throughout the journey to avoid interruptions while the visually impaired persona felt helpless and worried of bumping into items along the journey.

I must admit that it was a challenging experience role playing and imagining what it would be like to be in the situation of visually impaired persons. And to also learn that the senses of hearing, smell, taste and touch are also very important aspects while designing a product or service.

Further information on empathy mapping can be found at:

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