Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Design Model - statement

Literature Review

As my literature review has come to its current end on Mental Models I will now, over the next week, use this blog and my PhD Project Blog as a sounding board to synthesise all the cognitive science research I've engaged in since February. The forthcoming posts will hopefully inform a paper that will theoretically under-pin my first practical design project as part of my PhD. Please feel free to comment and make suggestions as I shape my understanding of Mental Models from a visual communication perspective. The main cognitive literature I have read and will use can be found at the bottom of this post. I will list the embodied cognition literature in a separate post.

Design Model

My desire is to creatively experiment through interactive design prototyping what Donald Norman describes as the Design Model. This is a designer's cognitive model of how an interactive product's functionality can be visually, spatially and temporally represented so that a user can operate the interactive product. The Design Model, a conceptual visualization on the designer's part, helps solicit the correct design choices to allow a user to use and experience the interactive product easily. The interactivity of the product is architectured in such a way to be implemented through coding and algorithms. This mechanistic programming of interaction may be HOW the product works, but the user won't understand how a product works from an implementation perspective.

User's Cognition

Users understand that an interactive product has to be experienced, and that causality affords decision-making as to how to use a product. Through cause and effect, prior experience and varying degrees of cognitive problem-solving, user's individually discover their method for understanding how to use the product. User's may all be able to use the same interactive product, but if asked HOW it works they will not be able to explain it based upon how implementally it was coded. They each will approximate a model of HOW they understand it works. As the cognitive science literature points out this user model will probably be fallacious, inferred, deduced, inaccurate and contradictory; but by constructing the cognitive model the user reasons how to use the interactive product. This user cognitive model is referred to as a user's Mental Model.


In my posts I will unpack these cognitive models in order to understand how to improve understanding of the Design Model in order to add to the sparse literature within interaction design and visual communication disciplines. Firstly I will process the cognitive science literature on mental models to ground myself in understanding HOW a user processes causal information. I will then post, as an alternative cognitive perspective, on how embodied cognition may view the same subject. Throughout I will be expanding upon what has been written about the Design Model.


To end I just need to clarify my use of the terminology regarding Design Model. As with any subject that sits across disciplines people arrive at the same or similar concepts using different terminology. In trying to avoid a taxonomic history I will keep things simple. Norman uses the term design model (Norman, 1998) whilst interaction designer Alan Cooper calls it a representational model (Cooper et al, 2008). Cooper also refers to Norman's term as a designer's model. An earlier term from the Eighties used in the context of a designer was a "UCM" or user's conceptual model (Young, 1983).

To keep things simple within my research I will now only use Norman's term Design Model. I choose Norman's term as it is the simplest term to describe what all three describe, and a term that is devoid of personal individual ownership.


COOPER, A., REIMAN, R. and CRONIN, D. (2007) About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing Inc.

CRAIK, K.J.W. (1943) The Nature of Explanation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

de KLEER, J. and SEELY BROWN, J. (1983) Assumptions and Ambiguities in Mechanistic Mental Models. In D. GENTNER, and A.L. STEVENS, eds. Mental Models. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. pp155-190

GENTNER, D. and STEVENS, A.L. (1983) Introduction. In D. GENTNER, and A.L. STEVENS, eds. Mental Models. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. pp1-6

GENTNER, D. & GENTNER D.R. (1983) Flowing Waters or Teeming Crowds: Mental Models of Electricity. In D. GENTNER, and A.L. STEVENS, eds. Mental Models. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. pp99-129

JOHNSON-LAIRD, P.N. (1983) Mental Models. Cambridge: University Press.

MARR, D. (1982) Vision: A Computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

NORMAN, D.A. (1983) Some observations on Mental Models. In D. GENTNER, and A.L. STEVENS, eds. Mental Models. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. pp7-14

NORMAN, D.A. (1998) The Design of Everyday Things. MIT Press

PREECE, J., ROGERS, Y., SHARP, H., BENYON, D., HOLLAND, S., & CAREY, T. (1995) Human-Computer Interaction. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company

PREECE, J., ROGERS, Y. & SHARP, H. (2002) Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction. John Wiley & Sons, Inc

SPOOL, J. (2008) SpoolCast: Reviewing Mental Models with Indi Young [online]. [Accessed 13 May 2008]. Available from World Wide Web: [Podcast]

VARELO,J., THOMPSON, E. and ROSCH,E. (1996) The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

WILLIAMS, M.D., HOLLAN, J.D. and STEVENS, A.L. (1983) Human Reasoning About a Simple Physical System. In D. GENTNER, and A.L. STEVENS, eds. Mental Models. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. pp131-153

YOUNG, R.M. (1983) Surrogates and Mappings: Two Kinds of Conceptual Models for Interactive Devices. In D. GENTNER, and A.L. STEVENS, eds. Mental Models. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. pp35-52

YOUNG, I. (2008) Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior. Rosenfeld Media

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