Users' mental models

13 Oct 2006 - 12:12pm
472 reads
Juan Lanus
2005

Hi Shalini, all,

Yes, this subject is of paramount importance. Given that you are to
provide a web site fopr to do something on it, noy just for the user
to like it or not, but to act on it.
A web site or any other human-computer interaction with a device that
can be perceived by the user as stubborn as a computer can be.
This is due to a lack of mental model coupling.

On the other hand, sometimes we meet another person and soon we find
out that there is good communication, that without saying nothing
there are implicit agreements and coincidences. This is bocause of
common mental models.

When I design a software piece I want the user to feel like in the
second example, in tacit complete agreement.

To achieve this I have to find out what's the users "conceptual model"
and try to match it with the system's "manifest model". The closer the
matching, the more the user has that cozy feeling of being understood.

One common error is to think that our own mental model is "the" mental
model, and that the user will share it. This leads to self-referential
design, which sometimes might not be appropriate. Most of the times,
in fact.

When the manifest model of the system does not match the user's mental
model, the user might reject the system, this is usually termed
"resistance to change."

It is assumed that the users know how to do the task the system is
intended for. This is usually true in a company's internal business
applications, and also in web applications intended for the general
public to do known tasks. These users do not need a different, newer,
better, way to do things. But it generally happens that their current
way, the system to be replaced, has some drawbacks and problems. The
new system must solve these issues.

Sometimes UI developers think that emulating the real thing they are
"user friendly." This is not always true, in fact it's seldom true.
For example emulating an office environment on screen with an office
visual animation. Albeit this is an attempt to make friends, the
drawbacks of the emulated thingie will soon raear. For example there
is no air conditioner. Dragging a document in not the same as making
balls and aimint them at the basket, etc ... Most "realistic" UIs
fail.

...
--
Juan Lanus
TECNOSOL
Argentina

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