Don Norman's definition of a mental model.

Understanding the mental models of web users is a key concept in the design of a usable web site.

A week ago, I was trying in vain to open a supply cabinet at work. After a few attempts, I concluded that the cabinet door was locked and I would have to track down the owner of the key.
Before I continue, it’s important that I explain the latch on the door. The latch was the type that swings upward toward you. In my past experiences with latches of this type, once you swing it upward, the door opens. I expected the latch on this door to act the same way. After lifting the latch and pulling hard on the door, I concluded that the door was locked.

But it wasn’t.

My co-worker let me know that I was operating the door latch incorrectly. With this latch, you have to lift it straight up AND turn it to the left (like a normal doorknob). Once done, the door pops open.

Now, as embarrassing as this was, my inability to open the cabinet door proved how much we rely on “mental models.” Read the rest of this entry »


For my latest project, I am trying to decide how I should deliver Help content to my audience. In the past, I have used RoboHelp and Help & Manual to create Help files. Each time, I used them to produce CHM files for Windows applications.

The application I am working on now is Web-based—SaaS; cloud-computing—cutting-edge stuff. So I’m not going to need a CHM file. My Help file will have to be Web-based. RoboHelp and other HATs can output a Web-based Help option, but I can’t decide if I want to exercise that option.

My problem is this: in the age of social media, search engine optimization, and community driven Web sites, does a simple HTML Help file created from RoboHelp cut the mustard anymore? Why bother struggling with RoboHelp’s technical shortcomings, when I can just cut out the “middle man” and build my Help file using Drupal? Or Tumblr? Or even WordPress? All of these products offer so much more in ways of social media integration and community building than what you could get from RoboHelp.

So are HATs even relevant anymore? And did I just waste $1,500. on the latest version of RoboHelp?

This chimp is using the mental model he has constructed on getting a banana out of a tree.Jakob Nielsen has posted a great article on the importance of a user’s mental model when it comes to designing web sites. The point he makes about the pitfalls of having multiple search boxes on a web page is a good one.

As he also mentions in the article, mental models are a key concept, not only in the design of web sites, but in the design of good documentation. Knowing what users expect when they use our Help file or software manual will help move us toward delivering good, usable documentation.

It’s another great article by Nielsen, and I recommend you check it out.

Google yourself and see what happens.My first post for my new blog. If you are reading this, welcome. I’ll be using this blog to post what I find interesting about the Technical Communication industry.

My goals for this blog are:

  • To inform you.
  • To build my online presence.
  • To make the moneyz.

Those last two goals are selfish, I know. But according to everything I have read, a Technical Communicator who is serious needs an online presence, just as much as they need good tech comm knowledge. If you are trying to enter the industry, a strong online presence will help you. Employers these days are turning to the Internet as soon as they get your resume. Believe me, your name is being Googled. Read the rest of this entry »