Saturday, February 09, 2008

Indi Young Tells Kate About Mental Models & Her New Book

Drawing mental models in design ...

"Hello, I’m here with Indi Young, an Adaptive Path founder and the author of the new book, Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with User Behavior. Indi, tell us a little about yourself and how you got interested in mental models.

Indi Young [IY]: I started out with a degree in computer science and writing code. At the time, there was not a lot of graphical user interfaces and engineers were writing code for other engineers. I realized there was a gaping hole where they never even considered how the code was going to get used by the end user. As I started writing software for people who were not engineers, this hole became more and more evident. During one of my consulting gigs with Visa, I was part of a huge team where one part was trying to figure out how to normalize the databases and the other part was figuring out how the end user — the representatives in a call center — was going to interact with the database. I saw them stumbling, and so I drew a state diagram to come up with a machine on paper that they could run variables through and come up with all these different scenarios. That was the genesis of the mental model. It was basically breaking from the software’s or the architecture’s point of view to the user’s point of view. Over time, I stopped focusing solely on the tasks they were doing, that went into the state diagram, and started focusing on motivations.

KR: Interesting. Can you describe exactly what a mental model is?

IY: A mental model is a picture of how your end users are supported by what you are creating. We draw mental models by audience segment — mostly a behavioral audience segment. If you are a non-profit organization and are trying to make sure that information about diabetes gets out to third world countries, then you’ve got a certain audience. You draw a picture of how they behave and how they find out information about diabetes and then you show how you support them. You understand if their motivation is to help a relative who has diabetes, then you support that motivation as opposed to approaching it from a different direction. You’re trying to approach it from the understanding of the end user and the world that they live in.

KR: You mentioned there’s a picture, what does that picture look like?

IY: It is hard to describe in text. The picture looks like a city skyline, basically, with a bunch of towers or buildings all lined up in a row. Those towers represent different concepts. The towers are grouped together in clusters that I call mental spaces. These are basically different things someone is trying to get done. For example, if your mental model is about getting ready for work in the morning, you might have a mental space about wakening yourself. Where some of the towers might be getting coffee, drinking that coffee, exercising, watching your morning shows on TV, or whatever you do to wake yourself up. Below this row of towers, if this city were on a lake, you would see reflected under each tower the things that your organization does to support that particular concept. For the concept of finding coffee in the morning, maybe your organization gives a map of all the places to get coffee near you. Or maybe your organization supports that tower in another way by handing out free coffee makers. The reflection is not an exact mirror reflection; it is a reflection of how your organization supports that particular tower."    (Continued via adaptive path)    [Usability Resources]

Mental Models: Aligning design strategy with human behavior

Recommended Book

Check-out more books at Usernomics.


Post a Comment

<< Home

<< Home