Mental models are psychological representations of real, hypothetical, or imaginary situations. They were first postulated in the late 1800’s by the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce but it was the Scottish psychologist, Kenneth Craik, in 1943, who describes mental models as the mind constructs “small-scale models” of reality that it uses to anticipate events, to reason, and to underlie explanation.
Think of mental models as akin to architects’ models of buildings, to molecular biologists’ models of complex molecules, and to physicists’ diagrams of particle interactions.
“There is no single methodology for creating the perfect product—but you can increase your odds. One of the best ways is to understand users’ reasons for doing things. Mental Models gives you the tools to help you grasp, and design for, those reasons.” – Indi Young, Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior
We study mental models to understand our target audiences’ thought process. How they perceive their surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and their own interactions.
Understanding your target audience’s mental model about your brand, products and services leads to discoveries and insights to inform your design decisions.