PUT DOWN THE HAMMER – Holly Foster Media


Many years ago, my mother asked my father to build a closet in their bedroom. Now that might sound like a strange request, but our house was built during the 1920s — a time when closet space was not a priority because people didn’t have a lot of clothes.

Enter the designer (also my dad).

My mom, the primary user, had a mental model of what her new closet would be.

“A mental model represents a person’s thought process for how something works (i.e., a person’s understanding of the surrounding world)” (Weinschenk, 2011).

A few days later after a considerable amount of discussion between my parents, my brothers and I heard the hammering sounds floating out of the second floor window. My dad was a master carpenter, so it didn’t take him very long to finish the job.

I remember how pleased my father was with his handiwork. That old tudor house had wide chair rails in every room, and I was really impressed with how dad had managed to create a closet that looked like it had been there since the day the house was built. It was beautiful. But when my mom saw it for the first time, she just stood there silently. Clearly she wasn’t pleased.

What had gone wrong?

There had been a mismatch. Mom’s mental model didn’t match dad’s conceptual model.

“A conceptual model is the actual model that is given to the user through the interface of the product” (Weinschenk, 2011).

My father had listened patiently, but ultimately failed. Why? He hadn’t asked the right questions. He had listened with the ears of a carpenter rather than a designer.

He forgot to put down his hammer.

He had also neglected to show my mom his progress along the way. Continued collaboration beyond their initial discussion would have spared him the task he ultimately ending up doing — ripping the closet out and starting again from scratch.

Keep the User Involved

Iterative design is repetitious. It’s a cyclical process, and requires keeping the end user involved through all stages of the design life cycle.

Jacob Nielson, co-founder of the user experience consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group, believes iterative design is critical to producing a successful end product.

” … user interfaces should be designed iteratively in almost all cases because it is virtually impossible to design a user interface that has no usability problems from the start” (Nielsen, 1993). 

Iterative design helps you discover problems earlier.

Lest you think I’m beating up on my dad, let me clear that up right now. My dad’s desire to surprise my mom with the gift of a beautiful closet was his goal. But goals alone are not enough; methodology is important.

His methodology was sound, but incomplete.

“If the system can be changed, the solution is simple: make sure it conforms to users’ mental models” (Vinney, 2019).

Users don’t always know how to express their wants and needs; it’s up to the designer to make sure they ask the right questions and, periodically, take the time to put down the hammer.

until nxt time …


Design iteration brings powerful results. So, do it again designer! | Interaction Design Foundation. (2020, March 2). Retrieved from: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/design-iteration-brings-powerful-results-so-do-it-again-designer

Law of the instrument. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_the_instrument#cite_note-maslow66-3

Mahmood, H. (2019, September 16). Uncovering design problems by asking the right questions. Retrieved from: https://uxdesign.cc/uncovering-design-problems-by-asking-the-right-questions-4469f2ba4772

Nielsen, J. (1993, November 1). Iterative Design of User Interfaces. Retrieved from: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/iterative-design/

Vinney, C. (2019, August 19). What are mental models in UX design? The ultimate guide. Retrieved from: https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/mental-models-ux-design/

Weinschenck, S. (2011, October 8). The Secret to Designing an Intuitive UX : Match the Mental Model to the Conceptual Model | UX Magazine. Retrieved from: https://uxmag.com/articles/the-secret-to-designing-an-intuitive-user-experience

Written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *