Mental modeling with Indi Young

Johan Berndtsson

Last friday I joined my colleague Putte and about 30 other UX professionals for a day of mental modeling. The data visualization company QlikView arranged a workshop with Adaptive Path founder Indi Young.Indi Young at QlikTech

Indi's take on mental modeling is a way of working that enable you to capture the behaviors, motivations, philosophy and emotions of the people in the particular situation being studied. This technique can e.g. be used to better understand how people at fast food restaurants decide what to eat, or what web site owners need to know in order to improve on their web sites. The purpose is to gather valuable insights that builds a foundation for our design decisions, regardless of what kind of experience we are designing.

Basically it's a method for conducting qualitative open ended interviews, making a thorough analysis of the results, and then visualizing them in a diagram that simplifies communication between project participants and stakeholders.

What I really liked about the session was Indi's concrete advice with regards to conducting interviews.

  • Set the scope for the interview
  • Listen without an internal dialogue
  • Ask why, get to the root of things
  • Follow the action - verbs
Indi has published one of her lectures on this particular subject on Slideshare:
She seems to be an extremely professional and proficient interviewer, and especially for the people in the audience who aren't used to interviewing users, this section contained lots of goodies.

I'm also intrigued by the mental model diagrams. I like the visualization, and wish we had more time to explore the diagram itself during the workshop.

For anyone who wants to see more examples there's a set of slides on Slideshare that displays lots of different mental model diagrams.

In my mind, I also tried to map the mental model diagram to the effect maps (info in Swedish) that we use in our projects. A preliminary analysis tells me that the effect management method is more business oriented (with a strong emphasis on business goals), and that the user research we conduct, although thorough, is far from as time consuming as the approach suggested here. However, it would be nice to try this approach when conducting interviews for a project sometime in the future.

All in all it was a very nice workshop, with lots of very nice people. Huge thanks to Indi for coming all the way to Sweden, and to Murray and the QlikTech team for arranging the event. Hope to see you all soon again.

If you want to know more about the method I recommend that you buy Indi's book "Mental Models".

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