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Le Fu

Mental model for website

In my opinion, an excellent website must be easy to find, usable, useful, valuable, desirable and credible. But different people have different definitions of easy to find, usable, useful, valuable, desirable and credible. So actually, as web designers, we must know our target audience’s mental model first, we need know which part of their mental model will impact their behavior while using a website.

My favorite definition of mental model is from Susan Carey’s 1986 journal article, “Cognitive science and science education”, which says: A mental model represents a person’s thought process for how something works (i.e., a person’s understanding of the surrounding world). They help shape actions and behavior, influence what people pay attention to in complicated situations, and define how people approach and solve problems.”

In fact, the mental model not only affects how we think about something, it also control our actions. Mental models are powerful because they work subconsciously and consciously to govern how we think about and respond to our surroundings. Everyone uses mental models to predict how systems work.

So we need design a website which matches the users’ mental models. But this is not enough, an excellent website is not only match with users’ mental model, but it also develops their mental model.

I want to research how to develop user’s mental model and which methods can help us to achieve this goal.

My idea of the “developing people’s mental model” is that through the system of a website (or through the use of a website) people’s previous mental model can be broken down (entirely or partially) and they learn something new, thus generating a new mental model for users. To some degree, it means the more someone learns about a system and how it functions, the more their mental model develops.

In fact, research has shown that people’s mental models of the way interactive devices work is poor. This is one reason that we need develop the users’ mental model. Another reason is that if we can develop the users’ mental model, it means we provide something new for our users.  They learn something new and  this will make users feel the website is valuable, desirable and credible.