Leveraging Mental Models for a Better UX design

Ashutosh Chandra | 29th August 2020

It’s essential for designers to leverage their product users’ knowledge regarding their products whether for it’s optimization or innovation. It can assist the designers to provide their users with smoother interactions, faster adoption rates, and better usability altogether. Services that a UX design agency provides can also assist in the user research process.

Let’s look at the relation between a user and a designer. The user expects something new, and the designer wants to offer something exciting and original. But most users already know how your product operates. So, the users always have this approach for new products and features on the basis of what they already know. It is their mental model. So, designers can’t do much than to understand their user’s mental models and fulfill their expectations.

Now, let’s understand the mental model, and how designers can leverage it to offer a better user experience to their users.


What Is a Mental Model?



A mental model is the perception a person has in his mind while interacting with a product. The mental model of a user depends on many factors and events. Examples include – first time experience with a product, conversations with other users, or experience with similar products, and so on.

Mental models are not based on facts. They are based on beliefs or assumptions. It’s about what users know or feel about a product. Different users can have different mental models. These mental models can change over time and adjust to reflect their further experience with the product.


Also, Read | 6 Benefits Of Conducting UX Audit For Your Product


Using Mental Models to Create UX that Makes Sense


Using Mental Models to Create UX that Makes Sense

Each person’s mental model is subjective. We can’t compare them. So, UX designers should not assume that their as well as their user’s mental models are the same. Each person has a different attention span, levels of comfort, and requirements regarding the digital tools they use. So it may happen sometimes that some users may not understand certain things in the product that others can. Designers have the essential knowledge of the digital system on which they work. It can be more obvious for them to understand the interaction patterns than for an average user. That’s why it is essential for designers to understand their users’ existing mental models when designing a new UI.  


You might also be interested in reading – Effective UX Strategies For Crafting Human-Centred Instructional Experiences


Ways to Fix a Mental Model Mismatch


mental-models mismatch

The major reason behind a product failure is because of a huge gap between a designer’s and the end user’s mental model. 

It’s one of the greatest dilemmas of usability. To overcome this, it’s essential that designers understand the users’ model to design something that works in the real world. Some of the ways that can assist us to lessen the gap are:

Jakob’s Law

Jakob’s law provides one of the best solutions to overcome this issue. It tells us that users spend most of their time on other websites. It means users expect your website to work in the same way as other websites. So, research on their browsing behavior and design for patterns for which they are accustomed. By doing this, it can prevent your users from getting lost and give up on your website or app.

Natural User Interfaces

The aim here is to minimize the abstractions that come with the General User Interfaces (GUIs). Brands such as Apple mostly use natural user interfaces in their products. It includes gestures and manipulations like how we would in real life.

Card-sorting exercise


Card Sorting

It’s a very significant technique to decide the way your users want to categorize the information on your website or app. It’s cost-effective and quick exercise and provides more insights into your user-group than other conventional user-research techniques. There are two ways for the sorting of cards:


Open card sorting

First, we give participants a deck up of cards. Then we ask them to group the cards in a way that makes sense to them. After that, we tell them to name each group they have created. Finally, we ask them the reason why they have created those groups in that way. This method is quite beneficial for designers when they don’t have any rigid structure in hand. Also, when they are trying to understand the ways to categorize the information.

Closed card sorting

In closed card sorting, we have already made groups in the card. Then we ask participants to arrange the cards under the pre-established groups. For a closed card sorting exercise, it’s great when we are dealing with a predefined information architecture.



Conducting UX research on traditional designs assists in clarifying the existing mental models. Also, it enables designers to leverage the mental models of the users of their products. The discovery, in turn, will assist designers optimize the usability of any digital product.

Looking for a product design or UX research? Get in touch with our UX research services for assistance.

Image Sources: Justinmind

About Author


Ashutosh Chandra

Ashutosh is a blogger and technical writer at Oodles, who covers topics ranging from Branding, UI/UX design, Graphic design to other design and technology-related matters.

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