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Mental Models

Last updated January 30, 2022

Mental models (cognitive frameworks) help us understand how people reason and react to interface experiences. They provide predictive and explanatory power for understanding user behaviour.

It is an inner representation of a system.

2 types:

  1. Internal frameworks: about the mental process inside user’s head
  2. External frameworks: account for interactions with technologies, environment, and context


Models are runnable. We use Norman’s seven stage model

  1. Establish the goal to be achieved
  2. Form the intention for action (what should I do?)
  3. Specify the action sequence (how do I do that?)
  4. Execute the action sequence (let’s see how it goes)
  5. Perceive the system state (what am I seeing and hearing?)
  6. Interpret the perceived system state (what’s actually happening?)
  7. Evaluate the system state (is this right?)

(realistically, this model is only good for exploratory learning when a user is learning a system for the first time or for encountering error cases)

If a breakdown occurs on the left (2-4), we call that the gulf of execution: the difference between the intentions and allowable actions

If a breakdown occurs on the right (5-7), we call that the gulf of evaluation: the difference between the actual system state and user’s understanding

# Mental model vs Conceptual model

# Interface Types

Primarily concerned with:


Interactive Graph