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Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior Paperback – Color, February 15, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


There's a passion for mental models in this book which is contagious, even to an existing supporter of the concept. --Joanna Bawa, Usability News

I think it is a must read for design teams. When using Indi Young's mental models in your process you will without a doubt improve the quality of your products for the target audience. --Jeroen van Geel, Johnny Holland

Those in the social sciences will revel in its qualitative and intuitive approach, yet those in the hard science will appreciate its straightforward and simplistic tone. --Marisa Peacock, CMSWire

About the Author

Indi's work spans a number of decades, from the mid-80's when the desktop metaphor was replacing command line and menu-based systems, to the mid-90's when the Web first toddled onto the scene, to now, when designers are intent on crafting good experiences. After 10 years of consulting, Indi founded Adaptive Path with six other partners in 2001, all hoping to spread good design around the world, making things easier for people everywhere. Indi's mental models have helped both start-ups and large corporations discover and support customer behaviors they didn't think to explore at first. She has written a book about the mental model method, Mental Models - aligning design strategy with human behavior, published by Rosenfeld Media. She is now consulting independently, conducting mental model workshops, and mentoring.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 299 pages
  • Publisher: Rosenfeld Media; 1st edition (February 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933820063
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933820064
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #849,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Weston Thompson on May 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm not sure I like the way Young uses the term mental model. To me, a mental model is first and foremost the way that an individual thinks a system or a part of the world works. An example from Don Norman that rang true for me: My understanding of how my home AC unit works. I set it/use it based on that model, even it it's completely wrong. I developed my model of how it works based on a variety of things, which may not include any actual basis in how it truly works. As a designer, it is helpful to understand a person's mental model for something so that you can map to it as appropriate to help people understand how to use your product.

What Young approaches in this book is something much broader: She provides a start-to-finish approach to documenting the way a whole group of people relate to your product space - their needs, tasks, and perspectives. She provides great detail in how to proceed, including literal instructions for your spreadsheet, etc. This then leads to larger insights about product (or product line) strategy, which is useful (but seems off the mark of mental models, to me).

I found this book a bit heavy on quotations and task instructions, a little light on Young's personal insights. This might have held up better as a chapter in a book on user research methods (i.e., Kuniavsky's book).
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Format: Paperback
I found this book to be 5% insight, 15% common sense and 80% filler ("In order to get your file into PDF format, you will need Adobe Acrobat Professional." p.257). It is unfortunate, because the book describes an interesting and valuable methodology that can be used to solve problems in many different fields that seemingly have little to do with web or product design. Like another reviewer before me, I think the term "mental models" is confusing; perhaps something like "task mapping" would've been more straightforward.
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Format: Paperback
I've been waiting for this book for the past year. AFter attending Indi Young's excellent workshop in mental models/alignment diagrams last year at the IA Summit, I knew that a practical, hands-on book would enhance that training. I'm not disappointed.

Indeed, this book provides great how-to approaches to finding the mental models that users bring to an experience. First she goes into the what, when, how, and why of mental models. Think of this area as the theory section. Next she takes you from the definition through development of the work, including information & tips on recruiting and interviewing. Her verb-oriented approach helps me understand just how to take work I've done before, techniques I'm versed in, and create the alignment diagrams that evince mental models. Finally, Young details how to apply the results of your research.

Practical, effective, and insightful, "Mental Models: Aligning design strategy with human behavior" answers a hands-on need for information architects, interface designers, business analysts, and anyone who wants to create user-centered, successful experiences. Oh--and she's a great writer too, so you'll find it fun to read.
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Format: Paperback
Coming from a background qualitative research in an academic context, I am delighted to have a thorough guide of how to analyse similar kinds of data in an actionable way.

This book provides some theory but assumes the understanding the user research is important. It is a step-by-step, comprehensive guide of how to carry out the method of Mental Models in real projects. I especially like that Indi takes into account variable situations practitioners might face and weighs different shortcuts and approaches based on these situations. For example, she explains what to do if you are keen to create a mental model on a project but have no stakeholder support. This is brilliant because a lot of online guides aren't as grounded in reality and tend to leave you convinced but empty-handed.

This book is not a theoretical exploration of a topic or a poetic argument for user experience, so do not buy it if you're looking for that kind of inspiration. What is it good for is a hands-on guide for conducting user research in a way that's based on delivering a long-term, deep, and productive understanding of an organisation and a way to analyse or create a product. It focuses on generative research (done to uncover a mental context a user/customer is in, not to test a particular product). The book provides guidance and advice for each step of the process, and anything lacking in the book is explained in the appendices. I found the appendix that covers the cost and duration of such a project particularly useful because I was able to provide my employer with an idea of the investment we are expecting to make by transforming our method to this approach.
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Format: Paperback
I have been using this type of research in my user experience design/information architecture practice. It's nice to have everything written down in one place from the person who perfected the method.

This research method is a great way to qualitatively understand users and customers and how they go about using products or completing tasks. The book provides a thorough and in-depth process which can be easily followed. It is also helpful to know that there are ways to abbreviate some of the steps if they've already been done in your organization or if your budget is limited.

The other great thing about the book is how it is published. Rosenfeld Media is taking a new approach to publishing, combining what is good about traditional books with helpful aspects of web publishing. I know there is a pdf version of the book available (don't see it on Amazon, but I know its available from the publisher). The paperback book includes content that one might associate with web sites or digital help systems - there are Frequently Asked Questions, and brief instructions about how the book can be used. And, of course, there is a killer index in the back of the book. The best of both publishing worlds!

The book chapters cover the different steps to go through in order to create a mental model, but there are also chapters devoted to understanding when a mental model is the most appropriate method of user research to do. This is very helpful when needing to justify to those who control budgets in the organization! The ending chapters include how a mental model can be applied -- combined with a content audit it can be an invaluable tool for surveying what content should be created or archived for your web site. It can also drive decisions about product development.
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