Metaphorically Speaking about Models
For this little exercise I would like you to resist all urges to google search your way out of the question I am about to throw your way. You must stay focused on the task at hand and block out the little voice in your head that entices you to do otherwise.
Are you ready? Be honest for the next few minutes.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I ask you to describe a housewife ( homemaker)? Add a Pakistani homemaker to the mix, now what image does your mind conjugate? Was it that of a woman running around the house pulling out her very own hair from the roots or was it that of a happy, all smiles lady sprinkling Shan Masala into her magic cooking pot that leaves the husband and kids dancing around her in the kitchen like Pied Piper’s mice?
If it was the latter then you have been successfully sold the emotional and powerful image of what is known as the ‘typical’ housewife who’s only job is to figure out the right splice blend that will make her husband kiss her hands, all the while reminiscing the days his mother cooked exotic meals for the family. This is the mental image that the advertisers or the multi national companies have successfully put there in order to make you see women through such a domesticated lens. The way you now think about housewives or a certain cooking oil the next time you go for groceries is what we call mental models. A mental model is a model of reality that people make based on their general knowledge of the world as well as their past experiences. A mental model is reinforced by a metaphor which is simply considered to be a lens that allows for comparison between multiple ideas and notions.
For designers, graphic designers or advertisers typically, it is important to alter, refresh and reinstate mental models whenever they market and advertise their products. An ad campaign is designed to revolve around the axis of the existing mental models with changes and alterations that are customisable to the product in the limelight.
Mental models and metaphors exist across all languages and cultures, making it essential for designers to be mindful of the people they design for. As a responsible designer, one must understand the impact their decisions can have over their audience since each decision is used to cement together yet another brick to the the existing mental models that prevail within a certain cultural audience.
When a designer creates a new metaphor to go along with the introduction of a new product or concept, they design what is known as a conceptual model. Such a model is what then determines the mental models of the people or the users of that product. A layman when asked about the judicial system of their country may paint a picture that although maybe far from the reality of the matter, is still a good representation of what goes on inside their head and how exactly they view the judicial system. While an expert in the field may know the black, white and grey areas of the system and hence share a particular mental model that is specific and relevant to the community of that shares the same understanding of the system.