Deconstructing Mental Models

A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about their own acts and their consequences. Our mental models help shape our behaviour and define our approach to using interfaces.

As a pre-excerise students were asked to find an object in the building and decipher its mental model by explaining the actions behind the scene to their colleague.

Exercise 1: Take a cardboard sheet and create one input and one output interface on the front side. On the reverse side ask your colleague to be the internal mechanism. Use the input to start the action and ask your colleague to produce an output. Decipher what could have been the mechanism behind the cardboard and think up a fictional product or service interpretation.

Exercise 2: Students are expected to create an object with one simple behaviour e.g push to open. In that object create a visual or tangible interface that suggests a certain mental model and try creating a behaviour that is counter intuitive to its visual clues thus breaking the mental model deliberately and surprising the user.

Concepts explored: Mental Models, Context of Interaction, Visual Indicators, Affordance