Mental Model vs Design Model – Part 1: What is the difference and how do they influence each other.

At Hidden Butterfly, a division of Black Swan, we understand the importance of aligning a user’s mental model with the design model of a product. We specialise in user experience design and know that the disconnect between these two models can cause user frustration. Our team works closely with our clients to understand their users’ mental models and ensure their designs align with their expectations.

To understand how these models influence each other, it is essential first to understand the difference between them. Mental models are widely discussed in various fields, from behavioural psychology to software and hardware development. In UX design, a mental model refers to how a user perceives a product based on their experiences, needs, and desires. The designer’s mental model, on the other hand, is how they believe the product should work and how it should function. However, the designer’s mental model is often influenced by their own knowledge and experiences, which can lead to a disconnect between the user and the product.

A few mental models can affect a product’s success, but for this explanation, we will discuss three: the developer’s mental model, the stakeholder’s mental model, and the user’s mental model. The developer’s mental model is based on their expertise and knowledge and can be heavily influenced by their preferred technologies and programming languages. On the other hand, the stakeholder’s mental model is based on their needs for the product to drive the company’s productivity and revenue goals. Finally, the user’s mental model is the most important, as it represents how they want to interact with the product and what problems they need it to solve.

However, these mental models can often be at odds with each other. When the designer’s mental model is too disconnected from the user’s mental model, the product may fail to meet the user’s needs and cause user frustration. This frustration can lead to a decrease in sales, leading to stakeholder frustration and resulting in designer frustration.

Let’s move on to the Design model. The design model is simply what the software or product does and how the user will experience the product. One aspect of the design model that is crucial to the success of a product is its learnability. Learnability refers to how easily users can learn and understand the product. When the design model is based solely on the mental models of those designing the product, the product may become too complex or difficult to understand for the user. In such cases, users may opt for a more user-friendly product that meets their needs.
Personas are a valuable tool to ensure that the product is designed with the user’s mental model in mind. Personas represent typical users and can be used to identify their needs and goals. This information can then be used to design a product that meets the users’ needs.

In conclusion, the disconnect between a user’s mental model and the design model can be a significant source of frustration for users. When designing a product, it’s essential to keep the user’s mental model in mind and to ensure that the product is easy to learn and understand. Good designs help users solve a problem.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Share this post


Would love your thoughts, please comment.x