Mental Models for Human Experience


Understanding Human Values, Perceptions, and Behaviours


In User Experience (UX) design, a common approach to empathy research involves the persona as a design artefact to define the archetype for the end user of a product design. The problem with this form of generalization is that such stereotypes and abstractions distance designers from reality, perpetuating the problem at the core of the design industry. The categorization of people is based on statistical averages derived from a reductionist approach to understanding human behaviour. The media environment is a social construction that has been manufactured by a dominant elite to form relationships between corporations, governments, and other social institutions with large populations of citizens, markets, consumers, and users. Categories are founded upon racist, patriarchal, and hierarchical conceptions of human civilization that places each individual on a scale of value, based on race, gender, creed, class, status, and power. Ultimately, personas reinforce a colonial, capitalist perspective that dehumanizes people as little more than users of products for corporate profit.

Mental Models

How, then, can we begin to map the human experience? How we can design mental habits, social systems, and physical environments for resilience and symbiosis with the living processes and ecology that are the foundation of our biological support systems?

To better understand our materials as experience designers, we need more holistic mental models of the human experience, as a way to understand what we are designing for.

Unintended Consequences

The design profession is currently facing a reckoning, similar to the revolutions in our understanding of class, race, gender, and religion. The 1700-year-old project of cultural imperialism that originated with the Roman Emperor Constantine and the integration of church and state finds its realization in the social, political, and economic institutions that have created monolithic monopolies of global power.

The unintended consequences of the tools that we have designed to shape our environment are the weaponizing of those tools as the means for controlling and manipulating populations, protecting access to scarce resources, and eliminating threats to religious, national, and corporate prosperity and security.

Story 1: Collaboration

What we have learned from microbiological evolution, from scientists such as Lynn Margulis, and from the practices of Indigenous peoples, is that collaboration and cooperation are foundational to the successful adaptation and survival of networks of complex and diverse forms of life.

Story 2: Competition

The primitive limbic systems in our brains are designed to trigger the fight or flight response as a matter of survival in a world of physical threats. Senses are attuned to dangers in the environment and events perceived as threats will automatically trigger a physical and biological response of increased heart rate, a release of adrenalin, and a heightened state of awareness, along with emotions of anxiety, fear, and panic.

When this intellectual, emotional, and physical state of anxiety is prolonged, we call this stress. People who live in this constant state of fear and scarcity will tend to engage in behaviours that are focused on survival and self-preservation. This interpretation of constant threat leads to isolation and aggression, as members of a group engage in a competition for scarce resources and demonstrations of strength and dominance to control the group, protect resources, and destroy enemies. However, such isolation and aggression has a tendency to undermine the survival of the group.


(suppress notifications) (Optional) Please, log in.

I wonder. If the title says "Mental Models for Human Experience", and in the comments [bauhouse] you mention Lynn Margulis theory of evolution driven by cooperation, so perhaps the idea we want to see unravelling would answer this puzzle - What Mental Models would help humans live by the values of Living Systems?

In the same way that the design artefact of a persona in a user experience design process is a method for engaging in empathy, these mental models are intended as a method for engaging in a process of bottom-up systems change involving what James Gien Wong refers to as Human Inner Transformation (HIT) and Social Outer Transformation (SOT) as the vision for his project, Stop Reset Go. The models were developed as part of a participatory design workshop at an arts education collective, Bez Arts Hub in Langley, British Columbia: Understanding Human Experience.

    : Mindey, kriz
    :  -- 
    :  -- 


I've read, and understood the problem, and train of thought describing causal structure, however, I had found no explicit method here prescribed how to use the thought described to resolve this problem. Where is the "how?" of this idea?


  • the title should be something more unique, googling I find that there's already content on-line about it. I guess it's yours. :)
  • the subtitle should summarize a course of action to take to resolve a problem, but it nominates instead.

So, after some investigation into it, I am starting to realize that you are trying to model human mind, inner motives and their structure.

So, ok. This is fine to consider this an idea. It might best fit among the kind of ideas that describe novel categorization structures for understanding (e.g., like supercategories for public intelligence idea, or transdisciplinary lingua franca). However, it would be good if you could explicitly describe, how that structure solves the problem of UX design, or allows to overcome its pitfalls.

How would one use it to create a more inclusive, value-aligned, holistically better design?

Or maybe, it is not about design? Maybe it is a structure as a philosophy of life? Ideas on "oo" are supposed to be methods, and it's most helpful when you describe, how ultimately they could work as leverage to change the world.