Mental Models Blog

Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior

Posts written by Indi Young

  • Hitting the Road in Australia

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    I’m finally going down under to hang out with some friends, see the wonders, and teach three workshops on the Web Directions Roadshow! There are six workshops to choose from, but of course you’ll want to attend my Mental Models workshop! Each workshop is each a day-long affair, with a catered lunch and engaging classroom exercises that will have you laughing and energized.

    Since budgets are tighter this year, instead of you traveling to the workshop, the workshop is traveling to you! I’ll be in Melbourne on Monday April 20th, Canberra on Wednesday April 22nd, and Sydney on Friday April 24th. (And then I’ll collapse and sleep for a day.)

    Mark your calendar!

    Towers With Only A Single Task

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    Frequently, you may find yourself with a task box in your mental model that does not belong to any of the other towers in a mental space. This task box becomes a tower of it’s own, with just the one task box in it. Although I’ve said that the height of the tower is not significant, you have a special situation when there is just one voice represented by that task box and tower. If only one voice makes up the tower, treat that tower as a hypothesis. “Only one person mentioned this, and theoretically other people will mention this if we interview another 20 people.” The tower is still a valid tower because you expect other voices to join the singleton, should you gather more data. If you really don’t think other people would mention this item if you interview another 20 people, then remove that task box and tower from the mental model, as it is too unique to be significant.

    Remember that the model is not an absolutely complete picture of people’s behavior. The model is a sketch of their behavior, where the mental spaces are pretty reliably represented, but not all the tasks necessarily appear in the towers. As time goes on and you have a chance to collect more data, you will be able to add it to existing mental spaces and towers.

    IA Summit Workshop

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    Interested in trying your hand at mental models? I’m teaching an all-day workshop on Thursday March 19th, 2009, at the IA Summit in Memphis, TN, USA. The cost is US$550 if you register before 07-Feb-09. This is a good chance to use a bit of your training budget and find out how applicable mental models are to your own situation.

    Use Proper Case

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    Since I began doing task analysis and creating mental models, I have taken pleasure in creating diagrams that look and read as cleanly as possible. The details in producing a professional-looking diagram include capitalizing every title as proper case.

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that not everyone uses proper case in their diagrams. Not all combers actually type this way, and, honestly, it takes a little more time to do so. I try to ignore it when I see it, but I have to admit that when I am working on a project with someone who does not capitalize words, I go in and spend a bit of time updating the diagram so that things look nice and neat. My associate, Eric Fain, just mentioned today, “I think it looks better to have tasks show up in the diagram in proper case.” Yes! Better yet, he has a time-saving solution. He always does–that’s why I hang out with him.

    Eric says, “You can convert a cell to proper case by using a text function in Excel, =proper(cell#). What I generally do, so that I am not working with the results of formulas, is to create the proper case column next to the original, then copy and paste just the values in a third column and delete the original two. If you use this method, you will end up with some minor corrections, such as all letters after apostrophes will be capitalized, but correcting
    those minor ones will save enormous time rather than trying to make everything proper case by hand.”

    Long live properly formatted titles in the diagram!

    What Do I Do With Vague Stuff I Combed from the Interview?

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    Are you in the middle of grouping the behaviors, beliefs, and reactions you found in the interviews? Having difficulty deciding what to do with a few of the opaque ideas? Here are some general guidelines that I follow if an idea is:

    • Too Vague: I try to re-define it, getting at the root and giving it a zinger of a verb. There’s usually something there that I sensed when I combed it out of the interview.
    • Redundant: If it’s an atomic task that’s redundant with another atomic task from the same person, then I merge them together in one cell, or just delete the redundant one. If the redundancy is with an atomic task from another person, then I group them together as a task.
    • Not Relevant: First I try to see if there’s a root in the quote that would be in scope. If not, then I delete it. I know my scope statement pretty thoroughly by now.

    And yes, I just delete the extra ideas, rather than keeping them around in a parking lot to bother me and take up time later. This way I don’t have to explain why they exist to the client/boss, and why I am ignoring them. The deleted ideas are just the result of my sometimes over-zealous combing.

    Interview with Eric Fain at W3C 2008

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    My associate, Eric Fain, went to Gijon, Spain, at the end of October to give a mental model presentation at the W3C conference. While at the conference, he also taught an all-day workshop about the method to a very enthusiastic class. Here’s an interview of Eric (in Spanish) with Jesus Escudero for El Comercio, the newspaper for Asturias and Gijon.

    Project Timeline for Making a Full-Blown Mental Model

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    I get to work with lots of teams at wildly different organizations in the course of my practice. It never fails to impress me that the people on these teams are brilliant, driven, humorous, helpful, and plain great to be around. I am in the lucky position of being able to learn just as much from these people as they learn from me. So it didn’t surprise me that one of these people, Steven Dean, put together the most gorgeous timeline for a mental model project that I have ever seen. It comes complete with little images of deliverables from my book. I see it as a fantastic way to explain to someone how the project will work, and how all the pieces feed into each other. And now you can see it, too!

    thumbnail image of timeline

    Use Up Your Education Budget Before The End of The Year!

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    Despite the kitschy name, “webinars,” I’m excited to be a part of Rosenfeld Media’s new venture into online seminars. I’m hoping that one day Rosenfeld Media amasses enough content to actually make it a non-synchronous accessible online conference, where you can download any past material, or participate in workshops and presentations live. (What else goes on at conferences? Posters, birds of a feather, etc. Why not include those online, too?) In the meantime, join me live for a presentation about how mental models guide organizations over the course of a decade. Thursday 11-Dec-08 at 10am PST Using Mental Models for Tactics and Strategy

    Enter this code for a 20% discount! INDIWBNR

    Back in stock!

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    Hi; Indi’s publisher here again. I’m glad to report that the second printing of Indi’s book is complete, and barring a rare October hurricane in Michigan, fresh copies should be shipping out of our fulfillment center tomorrow. Thanks for your patience!