A compressed model based on what we think we know about a system and how it works.

Mental models are a psychology concept closely related to Jakob’s Law.


  1. We form a working model in our minds around what we think we know about a system, especially about how it works, and then we apply that model to new situations where the system is similar.
  2. Match designs to the users’ mental models to improve their experience. This enables them to easily transfer their knowledge from one product or experience to another, without the need to first take the time to understand how the new system works.
  3. Good user experiences are made possible when the design of a product or service is in alignment with the user’s mental model. Take for example e-commerce websites, which use consistent patterns and conventions such product cards, virtual carts and checkout flows in order to conform to users’ expectations.
  4. The task of shrinking the gap between our own mental models and those of the users is one of the biggest challenges we face, and to achieve this goal we use a variety of user research methods (e.g. user interviews, personas, journey maps, empathy maps).


The notion of a mental model was originally postulated by the psychologist Kenneth Craik in the 1943 book The Nature of Explanation (1943). He proposed that people carry in their minds a small-scale model of how the world works. These models are used to anticipate events, reason, and form explanations.


Further Reading