Author Archives: Indi Young

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

  • Infer Emotions from Belief-Like Statements

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    In my previous post about how to recognize a belief in a transcript, I ended with the guideline to ask yourself:


    “Is this something the person thinks is going on, or is it
    something they know and hold as a guiding light in their life?”

    This is how you will recognize a belief. I listed examples in three boxes labeled Opinions, Guesses, and Preferences, Etc. (which included statements of fact and complaints). The one other thing to watch out for is emotion. Emotion is something we do want to capture in the mental model. As humans, according to our various cultures, we tend to veer away from stating our emotional states outright. (Half the time we aren’t even sure of our emotional state, anyway, right?) It should be no surprise that our emotions can come out as sentences that sound like beliefs at first glance.

    Examples of belief labels re-cast as emotion labels

    Do your best to recognize these beliefs as the emotions they truly are, and re-cast the labels into an emotional state. The new labels will greatly clarify what’s going on behind the statement, even if it’s an inference on your part. Your team (and your gut feeling) will help you decide if the emotion you re-cast is a valid one.

    February 2010 in Savannah, Georgia

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    I’ll be at the IxDA Interaction Conference in Savannah, Georgia on 04 February 2010. My half-day workshop is in the morning. If you are properly caffeinated, this half-day workshop will be a blast because we get to practice interviewing skills and all the fun parts of crafting a mental model. Cat-lovers will be in for a nice surprise, and dog-lovers will get a grin out of it, too. Early-bird price is US$200 –sign up before 30-Nov-09 to get this price.

    Getting the Right Level of Granularity in Your Content Map

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    What, exactly, do you include in a content map? It will contain objects that you will slot beneath towers. You don’t want to spend forever slotting objects, so what is the right level of granularity to record in the content map? I went through this exercise recently with a client; this example ought to help illustrate how to decide the right level of granularity for your own situation.

    At the outset, I tallied the many blogs and forums my client operates on their site. The client has 15 products which break up into 55 separate offerings. There was not a one-to-one relationship between the products and the blogs–there are 18 blogs.
    Additionally, there was not a one-to-one relationship between the products and the forums–there are 133 forums. This made me suspect that the blogs and forums were supporting certain cross-product behaviors in some instances. In other instances they were probably only about a particular product line. In this case, the behavior-related blogs may map to individual towers representing each behavior, but the product blogs may map to multiple towers representing all sorts of behaviors, depending on what is discussed in those blogs. The same went for the forums. As my associate Eric Fain put it, “There seems to be a huge potential to muddle things up and make slotting this content a living nightmare.”

  • Adaptive Server Enterprise
  • Workspace
  • Security
  • Eclipse and Open Source
  • SOA
  • Data Integration
  • Metadata
  • Mobility
  • Clusters
  • Web Services
  • Linux
  • AJAX
  • Company News
  • Kernel
  • Enterprise Information Integration
  • Virtualization
  • Master Data Management
  • ETL

So I thought about it. Usually I would just have an object called “Blogs” and one called “Forums” and they would represent all the topics, and I would slot them under towers where people might be doing things like “keep up with latest techniques” or “read the latest news.” However, here each blog topic could represent many different behaviors. Moreover, the existing content was not “designed,” and each topic supports many different behaviors. “Data Integration” might have blog entries about new techniques or perhaps a product release that helps make it easier to do. This made things a mess, but that’s part of the whole content audit exercise. You want to see the extent of the mess.

So in this case I decided we ought to write down all 18 blogs annotated with the topics and reasons they are written. We slotted those, which turned out to be mostly product-related, but each entry covered some different behaviors/towers. We were going to need a good tagging system to sort them out. Then we went through all 133 newsgroups and wrote down, for each, the topics and reasons again, but then we made affinity groups of these. That gave us a smaller number than 133 to deal with. Then we slotted the affinity groups. Again, there was behavior embedded in each entry, but since no tagging system was in place yet, we merely placed them under the towers where we imagined they might be discussing behaviors. Again, tagging will be necessary to sort them out into the new system.

Australian Public Radio/TV Contributor Mental Model

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Jeremy Yuille has been working with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on a project to give viewers and listeners around the country a chance to upload their own content. Why would people upload their own content? The most cited reason for doing such a thing is, “it’s a place to display my work,” followed by “give my work a chance of being used by the ABC” and “get recognition from the ABC.” So Jeremy and his team (Chris Marmo, Reuben Stanton, Marius Foley) put the mental model together of various types of contributors, analyzed it in terms of how to support them, and created a site. Best of all, the team is sharing their work with the world.


Thumbnail image of Pool mental model

Jeremy has generously shared the diagram with us here. (135Kb PDF).

Note how Jeremy, being a communications designer, reformatted the diagram to show mental spaces and towers as foundations to the boxes, rather than as headers. Jeremy blogged the details of this project here.

Team Twitter handles:
Jeremy Yuille @overlobe
Chris Marmo @kurisu
Reuben Stanton @absent

Healthwise Entry Top-10 Finalist in IDEO Human Centered Design Contest

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The Health 2.0 Conference is going on in San Francisco October 6-7 2009. IDEO is holding a contest to encourage and emphasize patient-centered design. Today I heard from Julie Cabinaw (@healthux, see her comment today on this article) that the first design her team at Healthwise created based on their mental models was accepted as one of 10 finalists in the contest. Julie says she hears more on Twitter about a competing product for creating prayer flags for child cancer patients, so don’t expect a win. But top 10 is a great place to be!

Congratulations, Julie and team!

Isn’t a Mental Model Something Else, Not a Diagram?

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Frequently when people hear the phrase “mental model” they think of a narrow slice of Don Norman’s definition. In his book The Design of Everyday Things, right after discussing his example of the refrigerator/freezer controls, Don Norman writes this definition of mental models: “the models people have of themselves, others, the environment, and the things with which they interact.” (page 17 in the First Doubleday/Currency Edition, 1990) Because many of us are interaction or information designers, we mostly focus on the “models people have of things with which they interact” part of the definition. It’s good to remember that Don’s definition is broader.


Slide showing a stick figure with a thought balloon diagram of what her iPod does, titled with the definition of a mental model, as listed above

(Don Norman’s definition of a mental model.)

Mental model diagrams are your models of “others.” Not only that, these mental models are not necessarily just your model, but your whole design and development team’s model. I would like to define that term “others” more specifically, too. “Others” is a particular audience segment (or persona) trying to do a particular thing. For example, it is people who are “Passionate About a Topic” choosing which college to attend, or people who are “Exploring Paths” choosing a major to study. It is “evaluators” deciding which data management environment to invest in for their business. It is people who “Think It Through” considering how to meet people they might be interested in dating. It is people “Uncomfortable with The System” coping with a health problem.


Slide of several stick figures with a common thought balloon with a mental model in it of their customers behaviors

(Your team’s mental model of others. You will want to be more specific than “customers.”)

Keep in mind you might want to model your internal employees and service providers as well. A hotel might want to model what front desk and concierge folks do. In addition to lunchtime patrons who want to “Shake It Up,” a fast food chain might study the employees making the burgers during the lunch rush. Realize you can model a wide range of groups. Your team can create several shared models that help you support and design for all sorts of various “others.”

And yes, the top half of these mental model diagrams is really the mental model part; the bottom half is where you align the support your organization offers people, whether they are internal or external. By matching services, processes, and information under each tower, you can see if they fit what people are trying to accomplish. You will see where there are strong and weak matches, or no matches at all.


Thumbnail image of telecom mental model

When I first proposed the book title, the board of directors at Rosenfeld Media felt that a new term was needed. They suggested “alignment diagrams.” Early clients and readers convinced them otherwise.

Seeing Beliefs Everywhere

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Too much belief can be a bad thing … or at least misleading and lotsa-extra-work-inducing. Try not to confuse opinions and guesses with actual behavior-molding philosophies. As teams ramp up toward proficiency at combing items from the conversation transcripts, I’ve seen them comb something like eight mistaken beliefs for every one actual-real-live philosophy. Then the mistaken beliefs cause lots of over-thinking and gray hair during the grouping phase of the conversation analysis … and I really don’t want mental models to cause people gray hair.

Philosophies can really show us the motivation behind a behavior, providing reasons why someone does something. But philosophies are hard to pinpoint. My associate Eric Fain explained it this way to a client. “Because participants may not have verbalized a particular philosophy before being interviewed, they often make several attempts at explaining themselves. People speak colloquially and use phrases with ‘think’ or ‘believe’ in them as a way to soften an opinion or a simple explanation. Complaints can also be expressed similarly. For example, ‘I think our training program is not structured.'”


Grid of four cells with example labels, three of which are not Beliefs, but are Opinions, Guesses, and Preferences

Take the time to think through what the user is saying. Try to avoid grabbing anything that has “believe” or “think” in it–more than likely the statement is an opinion, guess, conjecture, complaint, or statement of fact. Ask yourself the question, “Is this something the person thinks is going on, or is it something they know and hold as a guiding light in their life?”

First Person, Present Tense

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I’m convinced that getting the labels “right” for the quotes will make the mental model method easier than many other analysis methods. The best labels keep you out of the traps that make your mind loop and loop over the same questions: “This could mean two things!” “This is factual, but what do I do with it?” “This needs to sound more academic, so my bosses will respect it.” As you are combing through the transcripts, you want to stay close to the participant talking, and you want to label all their quotes with a verb that is first-person, present tense.

A friend of mine, Karen Lindemann from Hamburg, Germany, is helping me out with a mental model about how people communicate with each other on a daily basis. When she read about verb+noun labels, she assumed I meant the infinitive form of the verb: “To tell,” “To decide,” “To worry.” It wasn’t working very well in her native language and felt clumsy to her, which is when I asked her to use first-person verbs and to bring the personal pronoun “I” into the label. “Now I think I understand why I had difficulties,” Karen laughs. Here are some of her new examples:


Examples of first-person verbs written in German


The most important thing to remember is to keep the verb first-person (“I”) present tense (“walk, sing, wonder, worry,” etc.). I frequently encounter people using third-person (“he, she”) and past tense (“walked, sang”) or gerund form (“wondering, worrying”). These examples put a barrier between you (the researcher) and the participant. Instead, I want you to step
through the barrier and become the participant for a while, when combing the transcripts.

UX Week 2009 in San Francisco

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The day after I get back from Barcelona, I’ll be going to UX Week 2009 in San Francisco. The four-day conference starts Tuesday September 15th and promises all sorts of good speakers. I don’t think I’ll make the opening speech due to jetlag (which means I will miss Aaron Forth’s speech about my beloved Mint, phooey), but I’ll try to be there later that first day to chat with folks. If all goes well, I’ll be there all day each of the following days of the conference. There are too many good speakers to miss, and I’m dying to tell Erin McKean I had glasses just like hers back in 1990!


Me in red-rimmed glasses like Erin McKean's

(That is my best friend Carolyn Wan with me.)

If you’re going to be anywhere near SF that third week of September, you really ought to attend. And to sweeten the economic deal, I’ve got a discount to give you: enter INDI as a code when you register for 15% off. But-wait-there’s-more! If you’re a past or current client of mine, or related to a client of mine, or if we’ve worked together in any fashion, or if you’ve attended any of my workshops or presentations, contact me and I can get you an even better discount!

Combing vs. Grouping

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“What is a task, exactly?” This question came up in conversation today as the team at the University of Buffalo starts to comb some of the 47 interviews they conducted. (Yes, 47! Wow!)

It is an unfortunate choice of words on my part, which may lead people astray during combing. The word “task” is leftover from the practice of “task analysis” which had been a favorite practice of usability research in the last decade. For the usability practice, a task is something someone does, like “Register for an account” or “Go to the doctor.” I explain in the book that I don’t really mean this kind of task. I want something like “Feel excited about the convenience of voice-controlled calendar access on my mobile phone via toktok” or “Ask the doctor if the online article about symptoms describe what I have.”

“So it’s not the act itself, but the underlying motivation,” surmises Voltaire Santos Miran, on of the founders of mStoner. He’s exactly right. And it includes emotions, reactions, and guiding philosophies. Voltaire goes on to say, “We’re thinking of calling it a ‘nugget’ rather than a task. A nugget is like mining for gold. Or, it’s like a little bite-sized chicken McNugget! Small and easy to eat.”

Combing is not analysis. Combing is the period of time when you must forget your role as a researcher or an employee and get to know each participant at a personal level, through their transcript or audio. At this point, you want to keep the label of a task (or “nugget”) as close as possible to the unique human nature of each participant. Represent their inner thoughts. Use their words. Try to capture what they were implying in the conversation. Save your higher-level labels for later. (Combing is also a great way to learn better interviewing skills, as you find parts of the transcript where you wish you could have more insight and ask deeper questions.)

Grouping is analysis. This is the point where you put your combed labels together and label the groups with higher-level phrases. When you have finished combing, then you can revert to your role as analyst and researcher.