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Mental Model

What is a mental model?

A mental model is a mental concept of a certain thing, object, or theory and varies in individuals. Ultimately each individual has a different mental model of what would make an ideal website or product design. Designers therefore have to adapt their ideas to other mental models and expand beyond their own mental model.

What are the processes of a mental model?

A mental model can have several processes, such as a single-loop, or a double-loop. A single-loop mental model process has a fixed mental model that dictates decision making. A double-loop mental model process however incorporates a feedback system to modify a mental model based on interactions. The advantage of having a single-loop mental model is that decisions can be made quicker, since there is no need to wait for feedback. However, this works only under the assumption that the mental model is accurate and the target audience characteristics do indeed match that mental model significantly enough. The advantage of using a double-loop mental model is that it allows the mental model to be molded to incoming communication (through interacting with customers for example). This mental model is dynamic and requires more time to make a decision based on the mental model.

How to use mental models

Different people will have different mental models based on past experiences, social upbringing, and other socio-economic factors. Mental models may also be influenced by stereotypes. Concerning web design, the trick is not to disprove the users’ mental models, but to match the website to the mental models of the target audience. Conducting usability testing or conducting surveys and focus groups can help understand the mental models of the target audience.

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