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As part of our ongoing series of short interviews with Rosenfeld Media people, we turn to Indi Young:, the author of our first book, Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with User Behavior. Since its publication in 2008, the book has become a perennial favorite; we just keep printing more!

RM: What's the biggest mistake people make when it comes to mental models?

Indi Young: Someone said to me last year, "So I still don't understand how to set up a scope to find out why someone would buy an iPhone over a Windows phone or an Android phone." That would be evaluative research; mental models are a structure to contain generative research. The scope this person would explore generatively would be, "Tell me your thoughts around staying connected while on the go." With a scope like this, you will hear the goals people have in mind—"Keep track of where the kids are," "look up my client's business address to find nearby parking," "let my husband know I'll be 30 minutes late getting home," "change my flight reservation because this meeting is running long," "listen to that new song my friend gave me after I get home, on my quality speakers," "give that report to my co-worker after I finally remember during dinner at the pizza place," etc., etc.

These are the things people are trying to get done, and they might use a mobile device to do it. Or they might use a phone book or the TV or a map or a piece of paper. It doesn't matter. What matters is how each goal is supported. Does the Android phone support "give that report" as well as an iPhone or a Windows phone? You'd look at how each of these devices helps a person accomplish each of the goals. If there are stronger matches between certain devices and certain goals, then that indicates why a person might select the device with the stronger match. But just asking for the matches is a weak use of a mental model. Instead, use it to think up more specific, stronger ways to support a particular goal, for a specific subset of the audience.

Another mistake is the assumption that a lot of time and effort is required to create a mental model. Folks get scared off and never try one. True, if you go interview a bunch of people then yes, it will take six weeks or longer to get through all the steps. But you can also get a lot of insight using short essays people write about their thought processes regarding a particular scope. Or you can re-use existing research and your own knowledge of the customer perspective. These are a few ways to create, or at least sketch, a mental model within a week.

John Ferrara, author of Playful Design, is the subject of today's mini-interview. If you find John's answer interesting, you might check out the longer interview he did with Jenn Webb of O'Reilly Radar. Or, of course, buy John's book.

RM: What's the biggest mistake people make when it comes to creating game experiences in everyday interfaces?

John Ferrara: Paying insufficient attention to the quality of the player experience. It's important to understand that there's an innate selfishness to gameplay. People don't play games out of loyalty to your brand or because they want to solve world hunger. They play because they value the experience. To the extent that designers trade off enjoyable gameplay to serve their own purposes, they are shooting themselves in the foot.

This is what concerns me most about the gamification fad. Too often, "gamifying" an experience means adding points and leaderboards but leaving it otherwise unchanged. This is even implicit in the word "gamification", which suggests an experience that is by its nature something other than a game but dressed up to resemble one. These kinds of approaches will not survive because they don't value gameplay, and so players will not value them.

Successful implementations recognize that games need to be games first, and give the highest priority to the player experience. These are intrinsically rewarding games that are enjoyed for their own sake. Their designers value play and understand it as a fundamental function of living.

The Mobile Frontier cover thumbnail

We're overjoyed to report that Rachel Hinman's much-anticipated book is now available! Here's the blurb:

Mobile user experience is a new frontier. Untethered from a keyboard and mouse, this rich design space is ripe with opportunities to invent new and more human ways for people to interact with information. The Mobile Frontier will help you navigate this unfamiliar and fast-changing landscape, and inspire you to explore the possibilities that mobile technology presents.

If the testimonials from folks like Josh Clark and Luke Wroblewski don't grab you, check out what readers are already saying nice things about the book.

Also peruse the table of contents, FAQ, the 390 illustrations, and an excerpt that UX Magazine has kindly published. They're also giving away five free copies in an oh-so-easy-to-enter contest.

We hope you'll enjoy The Mobile Frontier; please let us know what you think!

When we published our first book back in 2008, we sold it in two and only two formats: paperback and a screen-optimized PDF. Both had been extensively researched, carefully conceived, and user tested. And we thought we were hot stuff for bundling print and digital from the very start.

Since then, the reading experience has changed dramatically. (To understate things dramatically.) In response, we rolled out printer-optimized PDF versions of our books, so customers could print them out more effectively. Then our books came out in iPad-friendly ePub format. Then, MOBI for the Kindle.

After the mad shifting of sands underfoot, things seemed to stabilize over the past year or two. A large portion of our sales are now digital only, and of them, ePub and MOBI files are the clear formats of choice for reading on mobile devices.

The odd man out? Our old-fashioned (four year-old!) screen-optimized PDF. And that makes sense—why use PDF, a format conceived for print, when there are newer formats designed to be used on your favorite mobile device? Additionally, publishing is a low-margin business, and producing a specially-designed screen-optimized PDF almost doubled our layout costs.

So, goodbye, screen-optimized PDF, and thank you. We'll continue providing printer-optimized PDFs, as well as ePub and MOBI ebooks. When the ebook sands shift further, we'll keep up. And our ebooks will remain DRM-free.

Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.

And as a reward for getting this far, you get to be one of the first to learn of our newest book, which just soft-launched a couple hours ago. Apropos of this discussion, it's Rachel Hinman's The Mobile Frontier. And here's a 25%-off discount code to use when purchasing it: EASTEREGG (good for the first 25 people to redeem it).