Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior

A full-day workshop with Indi Young

September 8, 2011 – Washington, DC


There are plenty of workshops that teach you how to design well. There are more that teach you how to test and improve your offerings. But there are very few workshops that teach you what to design.

In this workshop, Indi Young, author of Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior, will teach you the skill of building mental model diagrams--a powerful tool to help you create products and services that do a better job of meeting the real needs of your users.

Mental model diagram exampleBased on interviews, mental model diagrams give you a deep understanding of people's motivations and thought-processes, creating empathy for the people who buy and use what you build.

Portion of a mentla model diagramTo create a mental model diagram, you talk to people about what they do, look for patterns, and organize the patterns into a model of how people make decisions, think things through, and react to situations. This forms the top half of the diagram, which is really the "mental model" part.

In the bottom half of the diagram, you align your offerings--features, services, processes, and information--with the elements above. This makes it easy to see where your offering supports people's needs, where it needs improvement, and where there are opportunities for innovation

Models can be relatively simple or incredibly complex, depending on the breadth of the design problems you're trying to solve. Either way, they're a powerful tool.

What Mental Models Do for Organizations

  • Capture the thought processes and intentions of your audience (or audiences) in an easy-to-grasp diagram
  • Gets everyone--from discordant team members to busy executives--on the same page
  • Prioritize where to focus your resources for maximum progress
  • Serve as a strategic roadmap, steering the course of your organization for ten or more years
  • Enable players to see beyond internal justifications for creating stuff

Who uses them?

Mental models diagrams have helped organizations large and small--nonprofit and for-profit, universities, government agencies, and internal departments--improve their designs and product strategies. A few examples of organizations and what they used the models for:

  • Google--to design the Analytics app for monitoring blog traffic
  • Paypal--to help define their services in line with what customers understand
  • McDonald's--to improve their drive-through menu kiosk and services
  • Dow Corning--to bring filtered, web-based materials recommendations online
  • The United Nations--for ReliefWeb and PreventionWeb, two disaster response and preparedness social applications
  • Sybase--to improve support of their software development community
  • Agilent--to better organize employee resources

What will you learn?

My book spells out the process in detail; this workshop will give you guided, hands-on practice. At the end of the day, you'll be able to conduct effective interviews, recognize which data should be included in a diagram, and sketch a mental model of your own.

Workshop Outline

  1. This Is Not Evaluative Research (30 min)
  2. Intro to Mental Models (15 min)
  3. Exercise: Sketch Your Own (15 min)
  4. How Organizations Use Mental Models (45 min)
  5. Break
  6. Interviewing: Stop Carrying on a Conversation About Design in Your Head (1 hour)
  7. Lunch
  8. Exercise: Conduct Your Own Interviews (1 hour)
  9. Whoo-Boy, Analysis & Gray Hair (1 hour)
  10. Break
  11. Exercise: Your Choice of Analysis or Brainstorming (45 min)
  12. Wrap Up & Answers for Your Specific Situation

Who should attend?

This workshop will benefit almost anyone involved in the creation of a product or service:

  • Designers
  • Project managers and team managers
  • Directors and executives who are responsible for product strategy
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Venture capitalists
  • Anyone interested in pushing their organization toward better design methods
 When and where

Sept. 8, 2011
Washington, DC

($495 if you register by August 19th)


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