UNIT 1 – Understand and identify the target groups

This section has been designed to help you understand and identify which are the (potentially) unaddressed social needs of your customer segment. It is, in fact, more important at this stage to focus on an exhaustive comprehension of the social problem, rather than immediately giving shape to different options and effective solutions to solve it.

Once the customers’ problems and needs have been understood the team will be in a better position to design innovative solutions starting from a clear picture of the constraints and challenges to be faced. To do this is crucial to know and manage useful tools that can help teams to analyse the customer perspective on social problems identified by the social innovator.

This is an important step to identify, classify and prioritise the main frustrations and pains that affect each customer segment. In fact, a deep focus on target analysis is very important in the early stage of project development.

In this unit, you can practice with 3 important basic tools of PSSD (Product Service System Design).

  • Personas and empathy map are specific instruments that will help you to take the role of your customer and deeply understand their environment, thinking and needs.
  • Customer journey will be used to realize and visualize how your user will (or would) interact with your product/service.

The Social problem/issues that you are working with may affect many groups of people with specific and unique characteristics.

For this reason, the tools need to be calibrated and applied to each of the different targets markets (customer or user) you want to sell your product /service to.


Personas are used in the design process of a product/service responding specific needs, habits, expectations and interests of one or more users.

As you can see in this example each personas contains a different kind of information about personality, interests, attitudes, goals and frustrations.


With this instrument, you can create one or more fictional and generalized characters that encompass the various needs, goals and observed behaviour patterns of a potential customer. This process is ongoing during the test period.

The following video can offer you a clear and wide sight on personas, how to build it and why it can be very useful.

Empathy map

Like the one before, empathy map is a useful tool to define and represent a specific user. But this time, as you can see in this example. we focus on feelings/emotions and belief/thoughts of the single person that we are designing our product/service.

This mechanism will be useful to first understand and then test what is really important for our customer and what he/she is willing to pay. This is related to the value proposition satisfying his/her needs to strategically orient the enterprise.

Once you have humanized the target using personas, this exercise is thought to empathize with them.

Empathy map is a very valuable tool to help you to “walk in the users’ shoes”. This can be done using brainstorming, observation and interviews. Below you can find an example on how a team unpack a story and capture it on user empathy map.

Customer journey

The customer journey map is to analyse how users interact with the service/product.

It is an oriented graph that describes chronologically the journey of a user starting to use the service/product until he/she stops using it.

This kind of “trip” is represented, in different steps in a visual map that must contain these key elements:

  • Personas: you can use the ones prepared before containing main characters that illustrate the needs, goals, thoughts, feelings, opinions, expectations and pain points of the user;
  • Channels: where interaction takes place and the context of use;
  • Touchpoint: customer actions and interactions with your organization;
  • Timeline: a determinate amount of time (e.g. 1 week or 1 month) or variable phases (e.g. awareness, decision-making, purchase, renewal);

Mapping a customer journey is typically a process that is developed in a co-design session with all stakeholders involved in the creation of the product/service. You have to start describing and drafting step by step, what happen to your user focusing on the elements defined before and using post-it notes of different colours for the different step and phases that user come across.

Below you can find a good explanation of what is a customer journey map and an example on how to practically realize it.


You can download this template to start practising with the instrument paying particular attention to the section about goal and frustration or use this useful and practical on line free tool.

This tool will help to:

  • build a representative identity of each target segment;
  • identify yourself in the customers allowing you to deeply understand them, their problem;
  • research existing solutions in the market.

All team members must be updated on the findings and the possible solutions to ensure consistency and common understanding of behavioural patterns of the different customer segments.

It is really useful during the entire lifecycle of an early stage (innovative) social venture. At the very beginning, it is incredibly valuable as a way to figure out who really is the customer to serve, what he/she cares most and which are his/her thoughts and frustrations about the social problem/need identified.

Empathy map

To start practising this instrument you can use this template applying it to one of the personas that you have already prepared for task 1.

empathy map

It is more practice to print it and use different colours post-it to populate each section. Here you can find an online Google Doc version of the same template.

You can find other similar question here and can use using this page to comprehend better how personas and empathy map are related.

The empathy map has two part on the bottom about pain and gain. It is very important to fill in these sections starting from goal and frustrations identified before, using the personas, for each target segment. We have a Quiz for this. Click on Quiz for this section.

To complete the empathy map keep in mind the following questions:

  • Think and feel – What is really important for him/her (maybe something he/she does not admit in public)? Which emotions drive him/her? What might keep him/her awake at night? Which are his/her dreams and aspirations?
  • Say and do – Which is his/her attitude? What could he/she say to others? Which are the potential conflicts between what he says and what he/she really feels and thinks?
  • Hear – What do his/her friends and his/her partner’s say? Who influences him/her the most and how? Which communications channels influence on him/her?
  • See – How is his/her environment? What is he/she surrounded by? Who are his/her friends? Which offers is he/she exposed to every day? Which problems does he/she face?
  • Pains – Which are our customer biggest frustrations? Obstacles that stand between him/her and what he/she wants or needs to achieve? Risks that he/she might be afraid to face?
  • Gains – What he/she wants or needs actually to get? How he/she measures success and which strategies could take on to achieve his/her objectives?

Customer journey map

To design a customer journey it’s possible to identify these few steps that must be followed:

  1. Start selecting a persona which identifies a specific customer segment that you want to analyse;
  2. The second step is to distinguish the different stages and phases in which your customer interacts with your product/service (discovery, research, explore, choose, purchase);
  3. Now you have to consider which are the goals of that persona in each stage which must be laid out clearly;
  4. During each stage, you can now identify what are the different moments of interaction or touch points that are available to connect and engage your customers as they try to reach their goals;
  5. Another useful step is to define time and data for examples on about how long some touch-points take to be effective ones;
  6. The last step is to think about how much is requested in terms of efforts and people to match customer needs (goals) at each touch point.

At this link, you can find three different examples where you can try to identify the path and the single point described above.

Explore further

Tools and instrument used till now permitted you to put in the customer perspective and in particular to identify better which could be his/her problems and unaddressed social needs.

Once recognized and described the main pains and frustrations, it is important at this point to classify them for each customer segment in the current state of the art/market scenario. This is because not all the pains/gains have the same level of importance and at the very beginning it is desirable starting from the most urgent problem/need.

In order to organize and prioritize the problems identified and to point out a must have problem that really worthwhile you can use the ‘4 U’ criteria to help justify or not justify the social innovation case.

4 U criteria

The importance/relevance of a must have problem raises as much as the need/problem is:

  • Unworkable

The consequence of failure in finding a real solution to the problem would be a waste of time and money.

  • Unavoidable

It is impossible not to deal with it and usually, there will already be a budget allocated to solve it.

  • Urgent

The problem is perceived as a priority compared to other needs.

  • Underserved

It refers to a problem that has not yet found a solution. It means that the market has still a space for a better solution, which can satisfy customer needs gaining market share against competitors.

It’s very important to go deeply to each of the points trying to give an exhaustive explanation to each one that will be verified and tested using the tools that will be provided in the following units.

In completion of this unit, you will have understood how to use service design tool to understand specific users’ needs. The aim of this module is to provide methods to prove or disprove as many business hypotheses as possible reducing risk and cost for its validation. You will have understood how to refine the characteristics of the customer segments and how to identify true needs and pains that must be then validated.