Mental models is basically how we understand things around us. It shapes how we interact with the world and connects our minds to things we understood from different context.
The more you see that things are connected the more easy it is to interact with existing or new objects better (objects here refer to products, digital, physical, man-made or natural).
The aim of this article is to better open your mind to see the connection across several objects.
Have you ever tried to use a new object and you somehow find your way. Yes! that’s because your brain has created models from your previous interactions with other objects and when you see some signs (otherwise known as affordances), your brain maps a way to interact with this new object.
However, this principle, knowledge or what you refer to it as is not a just a design one but one that has existed and its applications are widely known in psychology, physics, biology even warfare amongst other.
Affordances helps you to know the possibilities of actions that can be achieved with an object. Or in another way, an affordance is, in essence, an action possibility in the relation between user and an object. (Interaction Design Foundation)
- When the train is arriving a station, you have the bell ringing
- The bell at the door when someone rings/presses it
- When you use the microwave and your food is ready, you have the bell
- You have the bell when you a timer runs out in some circumstances.
- When on a train, sounds are used to signify a new stop and at the station to draw attention.
- You have a light that goes off on the oven or the pressing iron when it has gotten to the desired temperature.
- The traffic lights goes red to signaify stop and green for ‘continue’
- In some countries, doors have color codes to signify when its locked. for example: Toilets handles can have the code red to show its occupied
All these forms of affordances or signifiers have been used across time by different designers and for different products.
It just goes to show that no matter what you could build now or in the future, they are lessons and knowledge that can be learnt from existing products to ease the usability of your current problem.