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Mental models – What is it?

Author: Minh Nguyen

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Sep 2023
In the context of usability, a mental model roughly describes how a user thinks a particular product works. This involves the understanding of interrelationships and the associated expectations.
Thus, every user has an idea of how a product must be operated in order to achieve a certain result, even before the first use or even after a long period of use.

How do mental models work?

Knowing the user’s mental model can – especially in the case of quite complex products – lead to the interaction between user and product being designed in such a way that the user can deal with it much better.
The “mental models” method is not so much a single method as a group of methods.
For example, the user’s mental model can be captured by means of interviews or by sketching together.
We have had very good experience with the use of the structure-laying technique, a two-stage procedure that first captures the basic understanding in an interview and then discusses it on the basis of a graphical representation – created by the experts.
Mental models should always be used when there is little knowledge about a particular application area or when users permanently show different behavior than expected, which then leads to errors and support requests.

The method answers these questions

  • Is my product understood by the user?
  • Which features do my users really need?
  • How should I name individual elements of my user interface (e.g. buttons, menu coins)?
  • How come users use my product differently than intended?
  • Does the design of my interface support the users in their tasks?


How do mental models work with us?

Let’s find out together if this mental model is the right method for your issue and how a collaboration works in detail. You can find our contact details here.


Not the right method for your question?

In our method assistant we have compiled the most important methods for the most typical questions. Try out the method assistant and find exactly the right method for your question: Click here for the method assistant.


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