How Mental Models Improve Design
Category: Design / Process / Research
Have you ever tried something new, such as a tablet or smartphone, which you expected to be challenging to navigate but was actually very simple? Conversely, have you ever used a product you expected to be easy and it really wasn’t at all? In the case of the latter, the product was not designed utilizing a consideration of how you think. Mental modeling is one of the most important aspects of design. Here’s why it’s so important!
Understanding new things is based largely on relating them to things you know. This is called a mental model. Mental models understood well will lead to conceptual models that are easy to use and fluid, providing the user with a better experience and greater satisfaction.
A great example of a successful convergence of mental models and conceptual models is an ebook. An ebook isn’t made of physical pages to turn, but because you’re familiar with the concept of a book, an ebook simulates pages and makes it easier for you to understand and use successfully. The nearer a conceptual model can be to a mental model, the more instinctive it is to use.
Any designed product or interface has conceptual models, such as websites. People create a mental model about things in their lives and use it to comprehend new concepts, so intuitive design matches the conceptual model to the mental model.
Mental models vary from person to person, so it’s impossible to unify them all. What you should do is understand what mental models have in common – understand how the user makes sense of things. Every project you work on will need a mental model created from scratch. You can’t assume that the mental model that worked for one thing will work for another.
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