Chapter 6: Part 4 – Innovation: Rebuilding Mental Models

Obviously, the core problem that “user experience design” solves is the decision-making process in the user’s “mental model.” Anything related to user decision-making is within the scope of “user experience design” considerations. In this way, we can distinguish in practice what is related to “user experience” and what is not.

For example, technical implementation is both related to and distinct from “user experience.” Many technical implementations in products are designed to help improve user experience. But if a technical detail is not a necessary factor in user decision-making, then it is irrelevant to “user experience.” “Business model design” is also the same. If a smartphone manufacturer wants users to see smartphones as miniature computers, then its interface design should reflect this. The former is “business model design,” and the latter is “user experience design.” But some factors in the “business model,” such as cost control and supply chain issues, are irrelevant to “user experience design.”

It is clear that innovation needs to solve two types of problems. One is the technical problem of the original product, such as functional errors. Essentially, it creates new value. It relies on our “left-brain ability” to solve. The other is the value recognition problem based on this. It is a mental error. It relies on our “right-brain ability” to solve. And as we mentioned earlier, the latter is precisely the shortcoming of most enterprises at present. And we always think that innovation success depends on technology. But in fact, most innovative products have new technologies when they are marketed. Therefore, more often than not, understanding users’ “mental models” is the key to innovation success.

For these enterprises, to make innovative products successful, they need to use “user experience design” to enable users to recognize the value created by products. This requires building a new recognition path for users’ “mental models.” And often times, the functional design of innovative products is not for technical implementation but for making new technologies acceptable to users’ minds. For example, the strength of hardware such as CPUs inside mobile phones cannot be seen. But when mobile phone manufacturers link screen size with performance strength and weakness, things become simple. High-performance phones have large screens and low-performance phones have small screens. Here, screen size design actually builds a visible path for identifying performance (true value). And doing this requires understanding users’ “mental models.” Being able to design products based on “empathy.”

It should be emphasized here that so-called “empathy” does not just mean that you can see problems from someone else’s perspective but that you can understand and use someone else’s “mental model” to think about problems. When we need to use “empathy,” it’s not because logical thinking has gone wrong; if logic itself is correct, it won’t change its correctness because of different audiences. The real problem is that our intuitive thinking differs from others’. So “empathy” requires not only information sharing but also understanding of others’ intuitive thinking patterns, especially various hidden “mental models.” For organizations, only when managers and employees within an organization truly understand users’ “mental models” can they establish true empathy; truly understand their own users and make decisions accordingly. Otherwise, “user-centeredness” is just a slogan!

From a “mental model” perspective, at least some of the views of those who advocate “positioning theory” are correct; they realize that the mind is key. But in execution, their own mental models put their minds back into the old bottle of marketing theory. They simply equate mind with market share. But market share is a result, not a cause. Thinking about results can lead one astray. When companies only think about grabbing market share and becoming the boss of the entire market, they may slide into the abyss of monopoly.

But in reality it’s mental models that are real moats. Companies need to truly understand their users’ unique mental models and design differentiated innovative products based on these unique mental models. And at the same time users and customers can correctly use their own mental models to identify value created on new products. In this way companies can form their own unique and long-lasting competitive advantage and have continuous income and profits thus having sustainable development capabilities.

Innovation requires understanding mental models which relies on right-brain ability. Therefore innovative enterprises must become The Right-Brained Organization!

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