Companies Are People, Too
How Mental Models Helped Teams
Do What They Dreamed
W3C team photo, December 2006 (Nektar team photo not used, to protect privacy)
Knows his customers, their Set up a demographic
families, personally market segment to aim for
Learns why, when, and how Have clinical data about
their orders change what diabetics face daily
Could order their cheese for Know they want an easier
them life (but not the details)
Knows they deal with other Assume easier insulin
companies for other delivery is a priority
products, so offers what’s
The Theory Behind Mental Models
1. Get beyond demographics
2. Dig into their stories to find out why
3. Establish strong enough empathy to play their role
4. Map out where you support them, and where you don’t
Don’t: Age distinctions, Gender (layer on demographics later!)
Do: Behaviors, Beliefs, Reactions
I mostly go to movies
I like to give the director the
attention he deserves, because
when I wrote a play in college,
people didn't pay attention, and
they didn't get the point.
Photo courtesy of Katie Kelly
Vicarious experiencing of the feelings,
thoughts, or attitudes of another
feelings, thoughts, attitudes
emotions, beliefs, behaviors
reactions, philosophies, motivations
WALL-E Image courtesy of Disney-PIXAR
This is hard. We have difficulty taking off our employee hat
The customer objectives
are to increase satisfaction
Photo courtesy of Pulpolux !!!, http://www.flickr.com/photos/pulpolux/
Mental model courtesy of Google Analytics Team, 2007
“Can we improve this?”
“Is this worth building?”
“Can we trump competition in a different mental space?”
“What’s the value of this to the user? To us?”
“How feasible/fast is it to build this? Are there dependencies?”
“When should we build it?”
Photos by Roger Edwards, TendrelPhotography.com
Photos courtesy of Sunsuper.com.au, Taten.com.au
We used the mental model to
convince everyone to service a
member’s emotional needs, not
just change features.
The mental model gives us a way to
get people up to speed quickly, by
putting it on the wall with other
artifacts about the members.
Photos courtesy of Dan Arganbright, Quixtar, and Roger Edwards, TendrelPhotography.com
The mental model is giving us
confidence to do things quite
differently than the rest of the
Photos courtesy of Sunsuper.com.au, Taten.com.au
Training the call center reps:
show them the mental model
and they can change their
perspective really quickly.
Project director photo courtesy of emmauspreston, call center photo courtesy of vlima.com; http://www.flickr.com
We gave the advertising agency
the mental model as part of the
brief. It made the brief so strong
and rich that their first work back
to us was closer to the mark.
Meeting photo courtesy of Jens Vermeersch, storyboard photo courtesy of Just Johnny; http://www.flickr.com
I was certain that a better IA would
help us increase our qualified leads,
among other things. The mental
model was a sure way to come up
with the top-down IA.
Our qualified leads increased
significantly in the first quarter
after launch, historically a low
quarter for our business.
People don’t just beat a path
to our door anymore. The
website wasn’t doing a good
job of replacing sales reps, so
we needed the mental model
as evidence to change it and
guide that change.
Management told us to go make a new
application that will compete with others
who are already in the market. They
thought we could just do a better job.
The mental model told us that
people are pretty well-served in
that area already. But it also
showed us a whole new area of
the business that was
So now we’re telling management
that a different service will be a
stronger bet. We just have to
convince them to go for it.
The mental model will provide a foundation
to think from for the new IA. The user has
no sense of where to start. For example,
breast cancer: do you start by moment in
care, by segment, or by what? And we
have so many different segments!
I strongly believe in the potential of
information therapy to support sound
decision-making. How can I translate
that into a product flexible enough to
meet all needs?
We want our content to meet
I need to understand the meaning
consumers’ needs more directly.
of “information architecture” before
We need to write “stickier”
we spend too much on this project.
instructions that will truly change
I have always thought that
end-user health behavior. The
architects are in engineering!
mental model will help us zero-in
on better content.
We expect that the mental model will
help all these different teams rally
together behind one vision, so we can
avoid the confusion and battles that
come with mergers like this.
… to do things differently than the rest of the industry
… getting a new person/team up to speed quickly
Clarity in Direction
… understand what belongs where (and not)
… connect different teams with a common set of knowledge
… brief another team with rich information
Change from the Accepted Method
… convince management to reach beyond user feature
requests and reactions to the competition
… think of new ideas that are closer to the mark
… get a team to shift from employee to customer perspective
Book: Mental Models
Essay: Look At It Another Way on A List Apart
Code: URF2008 (10% discount)