I’m a big fan of this diagram as a way of summing up the role of user experience in businesses:
It represents three models for software and service development: ‘implementation’, ‘representation’ and ‘mental’. Jargony, but simple to understand.
Any business that has developed software or services based on certain internal assumptions, and then seen the end product poorly received by users, may recognise the implementation model. Businesses following this model implement technology, products or services based on their own requirements and capabilities, without paying heed to their users. The result is (almost certainly) poor UX.
At the other end of the scale is an end user’s idealised vision of a product or service. This is the mental model, the panacea that a user would sketch out on a napkin if they had free reign. Ultimate UX!
However, hitting the mental model sweet spot is usually impossible, because businesses will (rightly and inevitably) bring their own requirements and capabilities to the table.
The end result is usually in the middle of the spectrum – this is known as the representation model. It’s a balance between a user’s idealised vision and the realities of what can be built.
This isn’t a compromise; it’s a reality. It’s absolutely fine and proper to end up with this balance.
Critically, though, a UX-focused business will and should do two things.
First, start any design and development process at the right-hand side of the spectrum. Starting with the mental model puts the users’ vision at the forefront.
Second, strive to end up as close to the mental model as possible, to achieve the best possible result for users while satisfying businesses requirements.
Businesses without a UX mindset tend to operate in or around the implementation model. Their products and services often won’t resonate with customers.
Business that achieve fantastic UX get as close to the mental model as possible. They’re the ones on the right-hand side of the diagram, and the ones with delighted customers.