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Storyboarding and empathy maps are techniques frequently taught and discussed in UX education. Having about 2 years under my belt on a small team as a generalist, where I'm involved in all stages including research, not once has there been an instance where a storyboard or an empathy map have seemed to be useful in any way. Our team doesn't utilize them at all.

The same applies to the common persona template; in general UX education, we are taught very simplified ways to create personas, which often include inventing a character with some fictional background story to serve as the face of the persona. While it's certainly been useful to define personas and different user needs, all this other fluff that is frequently taught just seems like a waste of time.

While I know that flexibility is important, and you can't have a one-size-fits-all approach to UX, I'm wondering if many others feel the same about the above techniques. Or, if these tools have helped you, I'm interested in hearing about how they did.

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  • IMHO (and probably not a popular opinion): Empathy maps are nice to show to the client, but not much else. Storyboarding: same, but they can be very useful if used well. Either way, with users being bombarded every second with different messages, static UX research is a bit iffy nowadays. In the era of Big Data, when you can have millions of users' preferences already digested and organized, working with 4, 5, or 50 users feels a bit stone-age-ish.
    – Devin
    Commented May 27 at 16:58
  • In general education, it is important to know the WHY and not just the WHAT and HOW. So I think general UX education has a lot to answer for when it comes to the purpose of creating assets (as a means of communication), and effective communication is not just about using the right tools, but also being able to capture the important details. I see development teams spend so much time on writing user stories and creating test criteria but then simply implement features based on a product owner's whims. Sometimes (perhaps most of the time) the real problem is not the tools or the process.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Jun 8 at 22:45

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In relation to the empathy maps, if your team is experienced enough they'll generally know how to get the most out of their users. The problem of course will be separation of knowledge, we don't know who doesn't know. Which is why one maps these things out so that everyone's on the same page. But with time everyone else should start to understand what happens when.

Personas are actually really helpful if you've done the prior research to narrow down what type of user will use your application. But, given that a lot of teams from what I've seen don't do proper market research before hand, you'll notice that the personas start to float towards a more generalised idea of the user (no data to lean on). I theories that this is why teams don't see the value in actually making personas. But that's just my observation.

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    I completely agree with everything you said. However, I believe there's a post-process that predates UX: creating a need. Personas are typically based on responses from interviewees about what they already know. But if you create a need for something they didn't know or weren't aware of, then personas become somewhat less useful (though not entirely).
    – Devin
    Commented May 27 at 16:50
  • @Devin yup agreed. Though personally I feel that creating personas actually makes ticket creation a lot easier. And you can still get personas from your segments if you team is data centric. It just makes the whole backlog grooming process a loy more directed. Commented May 27 at 20:14
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Part 210 of ISO 9241, otherwise known as “Ergonomics of human-system interaction" is basically putting together the concepts of 'evidence-based research', 'data driven-design' and 'iterative or continuous improvement process' together in the context of software design and delivery.

If empathy maps are not useful to you, it is most likely due to the fact that it lack one or all three of these qualities. Maps not created using real evidence, designed not using good data, and not kept up-to-date as the research and testing evolves.

Same goes for storyboards or any other assets produced by UX designers or researchers.

It's not the tools that are not useful, but it is how they are created and used that makes all the difference. Empathy maps should capture details that can give you a glimpse into the problem space from the end-user's perspective. Storyboards should provide context into the problem space and the problem itself (like a summary of a contextual enquiry). If those two things are not valuable to the project team, then it is unlikely the end result will reflect the principles of user-centred design.

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