This article explains what conceptual models are and describes the value of developing a conceptual model of a software application before designing its user interface.
Conceptual Model: a Model for Users’ Mental Model
A conceptual model of an application is the model of the application that the designers want users to understand. By using the application, talking with other users, and reading the documentation, users build a model in their minds of how to use the application. Hopefully, the model that users build in their minds is close to the one the designers intended. This hope has a better chance of being realized if the designers have explicitly designed a clear conceptual model as a key part of their development process.
A conceptual model describes abstractly — in terms of tasks, not keystrokes, mouse-actions, or screen graphics — what users can do with the system and what concepts they need to be aware of. The idea is that by carefully crafting a conceptual model, then designing a user interface from that, the resulting application will be cleaner, simpler, and easier to understand. The goal is to keep the conceptual model: 1) as simple as possible, with as few concepts as are needed to provide the required functionality, and 2) as focused on the task-domain as possible, with few or no concepts for users to master that are not found in the application’s target task domain. Continue reading Conceptual Models in a Nutshell