Mental Models

Google has all the answers. Twitter is filled with hate speech. Apple is better than Android. Only moms use Facebook. All of these assumptions are considered mental models, a sort of group thinking that pertains to a system based on belief, not fact. but still effect your user base. Sure you might think that Apple is better than android, everyone you know has an iPhone after all, but did you know that Apple and Android split the market almost 50/50? That’s the thing about mental models, you might have assumptions you think to be true but your assumption is personalized to you, everybody has their own personal mental models.

I don’t want to get too deep on the mental model description, but I do want to touch briefly on this quote from NNgroup that really explains how mental models are important in UX/UI design,

“When you see people make mistakes on your site, the reason is often because they’ve formed an erroneous mental model. Although you might be unable to change the UI at that point, you can teach users a more accurate mental model at an earlier stage of the user experience.”

Whether it be from tech-unsavviness or incorrect assumptions, it’s important to know that when you’re creating a website or a service, you user’s preconceived notions are going to be the leading force how they think they should interact with your product. Let’s talk a little bit about mental models that you experience in the real world, or at least, that I’ve experienced.

Youtube has an Autoplay feature that lets videos keeping playing one after the next without you having to click anything, there is a little window that shows you the most recommended next video which will play immediately after your currently watched video ends. You have to physically toggle the option off to get Autoplay to stop. But what if while you’re watching the video you scroll down and see a different video in your recommended that you want to watch after you finish the video you’re currently on? Since there’s already a feature to auto play the next video, it would make sense for there to be a feature that allows you play a video of your choosing after the one you’re currently watching ends.

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When you scroll over the thumbnail of the video you want to watch a small clock icon appears followed by a tagline that reads “watch later”.  To users like me this meant that I found what I was looking for, here was the button I pressed to watch this video immediately after the other one ended without me having to scroll back down and click anything. However that isn’t what happens. Click the clock adds the new video to a “watch later” playlist that I can go back and search for later.

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There’s also a small dropdown menu on the recommended videos that offer the same options in addition to reporting the video and marking it as uninteresting. But, no way to queue up a video to begin playing once your current one ends. This is an example of mental models at work. I assumed that the Youtube site functioned a certain way due to preconceived ideas I had accumulated from other sites.

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How would I solve this if I was a Youtube designer? Going beyond, well, adding the feature in the first place, I would change the clock into to the plus icon they use to add videos to playlists and change the “watch later” tagline to “add to watch later playlist”. In the drop down menu with the three dots I would add the option to queue up a video of the user’s choosing there.

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