Posted by: bbannan | February 22, 2010

Tools and Mental Models – Cindy

According to Kuniavsky’s Observing  The User Experience, the most useful tools are the ones that give the most insight into both who the target audience is and how they think about information, pp 47. The use of these tools can be used towards asking questions about the product and marketing of the product. Below is a summary of tools and techniques that are mentioned in the Kuniavsky book.

For Information Architecture, he lists several techniques that can be used to gain insight about the audience mental modes. These tools and techniques include; Profiles, surveys, contextual inquiry and task analysis, card sorting and analyzing diaries. Interaction Designer made need feed back on their user interfaces.  To gain this information they need to know how task flows, consistency of the interface, the relationship between features and their audiences.

Kuniavsky further list useful tools designers need in order to create a successful product.  Of these tools he states that task analysis as the most useful and focus groups the easiest in determine people’s priorities.

My thoughts:

I found the reading to very informational and I agreed with the tools Kuniavsky listed in his book. To have a successful project or to keep from bombing a project, designers/ researcher need to study their desired audience. They should now what they want, how they think and how to deliver the information to them. Having this information makes the process run more smoothly and keep cost down.

These issues that made come up during research can also be solved with tool kits designed by companies such as the HCD, the Human Centered Design. This tool kit helps companies research and understand their audiences as described on the IDEO website. So even if you don’t know where to start, there are resources out there available to you for free to help you get the most out of your user research.



  1. Hello Cindy!

    Regarding tools and mental models, I would be interested in your (and other’s) opinions regarding the tool available to aid our very own faculty of GMU in their consideration of “going online.”

    Check out:

    I found the tool to be particularly well laid out and insightful. Although it could have involved a bit more branching and more robust task analysis (to Kuniavsky’s point), it is, in my opinion, a great first step towards gently advancing GMU instructors/professors towards making an informed decision regarding their own readiness.

  2. Tough audience, Jay. ….

    I’m in the middle of a “take-over” at work… my team is being transferred to another Unit. One of the key reasons for the change is because the dynamic database that we design and maintain has been mis-managed. However, the biggest problem that the database faces is that the end-users do not find the tool intuitive. Everyone likes the end-results (or, the overall capabilities), yet, every (all 56) offices input data in different ways because the tool is not user-friendly. Inputting data in different ways results in not properly representing data in the reports.

    A major frustration by the end-user community is that “no one asked us what we need/want.” End-users feel as though the tool has been forced on them without their input and without providing proper instruction. Another comment heard by the end-users is that, “no one asked us what we thought.” What bothers me the most is comment, “no one tells us about the changes that are made and how it impacts me.”

    I inherited this mess and when I first came to the team, I got in a lot of trouble for attempting to learn about the target audience because, “we don’t have time to do all that.” Thankfully, my new management team has the interest of the target audience in mind. Unfortunately, as the new team prepares to begin managing the database, they have asked to review the task analysis and the responses to surveys and all the “old” management can say is that “we don’t have those readily available.” !!!

    Cindy is right – there are resources available to help steer you. The most important element is that management must embrace/understand is the need to utilize the tools in gaining knowledge related to their target audience.

  3. Thanks Christine for you added input and comments regarding your experiences at work. I believe that you cant not make an successful product with-out knowing your targeted audience, listening to their needs as you have stated and testing it. Good luck on your redesign, I can see that this is going to be a long and drawn out process!

    Also the last point you made is a great point. Management MUST embrace and understand the tools they need to gather information from their audience.

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