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When we engage with things, we link together how they operate and predict what comes next—these mental processes are called mental models.
Different users have various ideas about how a website should function, influenced by their experiences on other platforms. Debuted in 1996, Hotmail is the first primary email software. It used design elements like letters, symbols and paper aeroplanes to represent email workflows. Nowadays, all providers adopt a similar design system.
As designers, we must acknowledge, comprehend and incorporate past experiences and expectations for user interaction. The user’s pre-existing notions about the platform play a crucial role in the overall design process; these user’s expectations hold regarding how the system and the experience will unfold.
How Do Mental Models Influence UX Design?
Crafting an excellent user experience (UX) ensures your user finds things swiftly. Instead of making users figure things out, the designer’s task is to build a website model that perfectly aligns with user expectations. Users should seamlessly grasp how to navigate the platform, and the designer can influence this by understanding what encourages or discourages user adaptation.
When designers aim for innovation, introducing something new or original, they should consider how users approach a new product or feature. It is known as the mental model approach. And it involves working within the framework of how users already use the platform.
A mental model is what users believe will work in the UX design. It’s a concept embedded in the user’s mind, constructed from past interactions with websites, mobile phones and other interactive products.
UX designers employ mental models to shape a design experience that aligns with users’ expectations. In UX design, the mental model reflects how users think the system should function.
Understanding that users form mental models through interactions with existing applications and websites is crucial. As a gold standard, designers should assume users build their mental models based on these interactions. In essence, users expect functionality consistent with previous experiences. If standard patterns exist, users simulate them in your design. Designers, recognising this, can create fantastic mental models from their creations, believing that features will be easy for users to understand.
Good Mental Models in UX Design
We all hold thousands of mental models about how the world operates. Our minds process, store and interpret information through these models. It acts as a shortcut for remembering things.
In UX Design, we frequently adopt mental models by incorporating metaphors that users grasp easily.
Some of these models are so subtle and hidden that we often overlook them. For instance, the notion that a folder contains files or a back arrow takes you back.
Others are more complicated, like the law of diminishing returns. This idea means as you invest more in a specific area, the profit rate earned from each additional investment declines. Consequently, investing more in that area ultimately yields no extra profit.
I’ve assembled a few more examples to solidify this concept in your mind. Following this, we’ll dive in and check out mental models and create UX mental model diagrams for your design projects.
- Zooming: Adjusting the zoom brings the content closer or farther away.
- Search: Entering keywords into a search bar assists us in finding what we’re looking for.
- Breadcrumb: A breadcrumb reveals a trail of where we’ve been.
- Tabs: Tabs should enable us to navigate between sections in a file.
- Accordions: Accordions should expand and collapse.
- Menus: A menu presents options for us to choose from.
Mental models and metaphors are tools used to help people learn and convey tricky concepts. When used together, they improve the significance and user-friendliness of designs.
My Final Verdict
Understanding how a product or system works is crucial for users, and that understanding is known as a mental model. As a seasoned UI/UX web designer, I craft conceptual models to represent how a system functions. Also, I use product design patterns and standardised solutions for general issues. To create a robust mental model diagram, we, as UX Designers, should delve into user behaviour and expectations, identify patterns and themes in the data, and then visually and textually construct the diagram. It’s vital to test and iterate as needed.
For those without a background in this research, teaming up with a UX researcher with a background in psychology is an intelligent move. This collaboration is essential for identifying a fresh mental model. A well-crafted mental model is the foundation for a user persona, enhancing our ability to empathise throughout the design thinking process. The perfect mental model isn’t just theoretical; it’s actionable, guiding our decisions on the best design for the digital product. Remember, when seeking professional support, consider employing an experienced web design agency in London to ensure top-notch expertise in your project.