Mobile Academy: Mental Models

Posted on October 31, 2012


D3 User Mental Model &Framework This session is about getting the right design for your users. We will define the steps and building blocks needed for the user and system to com­plete the core tasks in the real world. Learn how to use Mind maps, Task break­down flow, IA blocks, Priya Prakash, Manuela Zavattaro 2/10, 6.30pm (Tues)
The sesh is given by Priya and Manuela who are  Nokia UX gurus, however Priya now runs her own company.

The thinking in this class is following on from the persona and the value proposition class,  so go see that if you have not already.

The objective is to extend the thinking behind the users desires and needs. [ The obvious reason is that for an app to be found, selected, used and then re-used it must be able meet a user’s desire, need, aspiration etc,  it must connect with the user,  or it will not succeed, in part this looks at why would something be considered to meet a desire or need.]
Definition of a Mental Model
A mental model is an internal scale model representation of an external reality
For example in your mind you have a model of an hotel room, whilst the rooms are all different they all conform to the model.  [you know a rectangle with the bathroom in the corner, a bed, desk, chair, TV, strange smell, and funny noises in the middle of the night]
The mental model is built up on the fly from knowledge of prior experience, perception and problem solving strategies.
The brain uses these mental models to looks at the link between the why, the what and the how aspects life and problems,  we use it in designing apps for the why,what and how of the proposition.
A conceptual model is devised as a tool to teach or explore a real situation, in other words designers use these conceptual models to provide a framework for understanding how people operate.
The mental and the conceptual should overlap enough to provide a good experience. The gaps are the places where innovation and change comes from. In the extreme case of innovation the models may not overlap at all. [mind you here be demons, most attempts at something very new fail,  so this will be an indicator that a lot of care will be required to ensure that there is a way to change people, and to have them understand the new model.  eg Kickstarter,  funding was from banks or funds that wanted interest or equity as payment,  right ! well crowd funding effectively says that funding can be almost altruistic, with non financial rewards.  this was a case of switching people’s perception in to  a mental model with them as an investor]
However a mismatch can also lead to dissonance and the user can be confused and therefore unable to achieve their goals. [That is the change in the existing mental model is not possible, or the new mental model is not easily created.  A good example of this was the early days of location based services,  where your phone could tell you where the nearest ATM or Chinese restaurant, toilet, etc is.   However in the early 2000s people did not see their phone as a source of such information, particularly when out and about, so did not think to ask it, when lost or confused for such help.  This was made worse by the fact that most people most of the time know where they are, and are not needing such info, meaning the opportunity for the person to learn this new behaviour was rare.  Satnavs were the key to breaking that example, as they taught people that little block boxes could know where you are, and provide useful information.]
Here are some Design principles that help define mental models
  • Simplicity
    “Should be understandable at a glance”.  Do not clutter, or use deep menu trees etc.
  • Familiarity
    The user should be able to dive the concept from prior knowledge.  Eg an ereader with a page turn swipe.
    The real question is which prior experience, because being too obvious can be boring, or too long winded.
  • Availability
    Provide visual cues, reminders, and other aids. Never leave the user hanging, or lost.
  • Flexibility
    This is hard, however you should allow for different interaction techniques to suite the user.
    Eg the music app on iPhone with lists and cover flow.
  • Feedback
    Norman*: “a system should provide complete and continuous feed back on the completion of actions”
    However these feedback should be rewarding, and may not be required after the first (few) times.
  • Safety
    The actions should only do what the user is expecting, users should feel confident in exploring, knowing they can test or undo.
  • Affordances
    Provide clues to the user, and affordable is what a user thinks can be done with the object, so use real work representations that provide the clue, and fit with experience.
  • User life cycle
    How the functions change and increase as the user gains experience.
    Eg keep it simple for a first time user.
The session then went into showing some examples such as a mobile phone that was packaged into a book like structure so that as you opened each page so more of the device was revealed.  Here is the SIM, place it here.
and a cook book app that uses a lot of visual imagery to help you understand the process of cooking, and the ingredients required
*Norman, Donald (1988). The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Doubleday/Currency.