The Power of Empathy


Last year at 99U, legendary designer Michael Wolff shared valuable lessons he learned from a career spanning over five decades. His  biggest insight? Folks won’t remembers the logo, the jingle, or the commercial,  but they certainly remember how your brand made them feel. Empathy is key!

It’s critical to always have your audience at the front and center.  Remember: It’s not about how you feel, it’s how about they feel.

On site, Team ImageThink had the pleasure of taking sketchnotes of Michael Wolff’s presentation. Interested in a visual recap? Check out the graphic below:


Michael Wolff’s presentation provided an excellent springboard for future conversations. 99U recently revisited Wolff’s wisdom in context of drafting your own Empathy Map to better understand your audience:

We rely on a tool called an Empathy Map (You can download our Empathy Map here) to help us identify common patterns from these conversations. We write down the answers on post it notes and organize it on the map. This helps us get a birds-eye view of what users and customers want.

The fun part is the right column, which holds all types of ideas that we never would have dreamed up had we not spoken with real people. This is where the creative breakthroughs start to sprout up and we simply focus on generating a large quantity of ideas at this stage of the process.


Next, to tie all these conversations into something everyone can execute against we work with our team and client to draft a fill-in-the-blank Mad Libs-type statement. It usually goes something like this: “(User) needs a way to (solve a problem) because (they have this pain or desire).”

The “because” part turns out to be a really big deal. We find our entire team aligning around this insight. We’ve now connected with these people as friends and as human beings, and are committed to creating something together to make their lives better.

Being able to figure out the emotion (and drive) behind the “because” is always the hardest part. At ImageThink, we’ve seen time and time again the value of visually mapping content out. Whether it’s using a pre-created template like 99U’s Empathy Map or working with a graphic facilitator to draw out the right type of questions to get ideas going, drawing ideas up is a clarity-bringing method to get to the ‘heart’ of any question.

In your next meeting how would you answer, “(User) needs a way to (solve a problem) because (they have this pain or desire)” while keeping EMPATHY at the center? Creating your own custom Empathy Map could be a fantastic exercise to allow you to tap into your audience better and foster a greater brand connection. Who knows what insights you may unlock?

For ideas on how ImageThink could graphically facilitate your next meeting, drop us a line at Or visit our Services page for more idea on how we could draw out your big idea!

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