Mental Model Diagrams (Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior)


Indi Young


There is no single methodology for crafting a successful product. But you can increase your odds, and one of the best ways to do this is to really understand peoples’ reasons for doing things. Indi Young’s Mental Models workshop will give you the tools to help you grasp those reasons.

Reading a requirements document about what a customer needs is completely different than understanding what is driving them. Rather than the basic functions, you need to understand the richer mix of philosophies, emotions, and behaviors that flows inside the customer’s minds. Mental models are a method for finding out what goes on inside customers’ minds. Mental models help you let go of your product and what you were hired to do and just empathize. After you have a deep understanding of the customer’s world, then you can fire up your brain and solve problems, but not until you have walked in their world and developed an understanding of it.

In this half-day workshop, Indi Young will teach you how to gather data through conversation, organize that data into a model, and use that model to guide design. Exercises will give you a chance to practice aspects of the method.

“Wait a minute. I’ve heard the term ‘mental model’ before.” Those in the field of cognitive research have been defining mental models for a few decades. The term “mental model” has come to mean “a mental representation.” Don Norman’s own definition of mental models includes “a model of others,” which is exactly what these diagrams represent: a model your team makes of other groups. Aligned with the ways you support people, mental models provide a clear roadmap of where your organization should invest its energies, and also where it shouldn’t, allowing you to stretch your limited resources.


You will find Indi working on design projects and running mental model research for clients, teaching, writing, and craving chocolate in Marin County, where she unfortunately does not have a hot tub. She thinks she got turned on to design research by reading C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen series while she was a software engineer back in the 80′s. She’s a co-founder of  Adaptive Path and writes a blog at Rosenfeld Media. If anything can be said about her workshops, she will honestly make you feel more comfortable chatting to strangers at cocktail parties.