MENTAL MODELS & ITERATIVE DESIGN
Not everyone thinks the same. Not everyone is like you. Not everyone has the same value system or experiences. Yet, our challenge as designers and creators of products is to make things that everyone understands and finds intuitive. When you think about it, it is a tall order. One important concept of user centered design and one that you must take into consideration when developing an interactive experience is that a user comes to your creation with a number of assumptions and beliefs. According to Jacob Nielson, a “Mental Model” is what the user believes a system is, how it works and their behavioral expectations of that system. It is very important to make a distinction between belief and fact. A users belief may have no basis in facts, or the reality of how things actually work, even may be illogical. For example most people press an elevator button after they have seen the light go on, because the “believe” it will either make the elevator come faster or ensure the call was made. It makes no difference.
People expect things to act similarly. If they have already used a mobile app with the same purpose as yours, they bring certain assumptions about how it will work. If they have visited other sites, they have an understanding about navigation conventions. In fact, some argue that the biggest frustrations for users is when applications do not work as expected. If you are introducing a new way of doing something, it is very important to cue the user that this will be different, possibly by adding explanatory elements to your work until these new “norms” are understood and accepted.
Just imagine if that after all your years of greeting people, suddenly you were asked to rub elbows instead of shake hands. The designers of the new system felt that rubbing elbows would be more hygienic and less germs would be transferred during the encounter. But you never got the memo and the next time you entered a business meeting you got blank stares when you extended your hand. After a few funny looks I imagine it would be a negative experience. Mental Models are not unchangeable, they will evolve over time and will not stifle innovation…they just simply need to be considered when one encounters unexpected confusion over a new feature or process.
As designers and developers our work is never done. Contrary to popular belief, we have been reinventing the wheel for centuries. if not, we would roll on stone and wood spokes rather than rubber and steel. If a product exists, it can be improved. Iterative design is a design methodology based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a product or process. Based on the results of testing the most recent iteration of a design, changes and refinements are made. This process is intended to ultimately improve the quality and functionality of a design. In iterative design, each stage of the development process includes a user feedback mechanism and a small approval process in which the product can move on to the next stage or sent back for further refinement until it is ready.
It also means that a product development process is never really complete. There is no “DONE!” stage or ending to the re-evaluation of a product. Companies who apply design thinking and practice iterative design seek to place their products and services in a continuous state of improvement. They often revisit their initial user experience goals and assumptions and question whether they are meeting those goals or create new ones. Whether you are working on a long multi-year enterprise system or a short term project like a basic website, quickly prototyping and having a “learning as you go” methodology can greatly improve your final product.
It is understandable to fear that adopting an iterative design approach will slow down a project to a crawl but in fact it actually saves you time in avoiding serious misunderstanding and shortcomings of the product before they are launched. it saves resources in the form of recalls, reworking , customer frustration and support calls when flawed products are presented to end users.
Top image/ Featured image: Steve Martin, President Obama greet with elbow bump at DreamWorks, NBC News.
Shawn is an Information Technology manager in Washington D.C. and a graduate student at Quinnipiac University pursuing his masters in Interactive Media and Communications.
Mental Models and User Experience Design. (2019, January 28). Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/mental-models
Iterative design – Wikipedia. (2019, January 27). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iterative_design
Baxter, K., Courage, C., & Caine, K. (2015). Understanding Your Users: A Practical Guide to User Research Methods (Interactive Technologies). Morgan Kaufmann. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Your-Users-Interactive-Technologies/dp/0128002328
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