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UB: The Race to Place a Mental Space


UB: The Race to Place a Mental Space

Aug 28, 2009By Voltaire Santos Miran

Dont get me wrong, I love what I do. But Ive quietly opined to close friends from time to irregular time how I miss my first career as an underwear model. Thanks to this UB project, Im a model once more. A Mental Supermodel, that is. Youll forgive the lack of an accompanying graphic (my salad days are over) as I explain….

Grouping began roughly four weeks ago. Roughly 50 interviews, each with roughly 60 nuggets each (3,000-ish nuggets total), to be sorted into towers and mental spaces that make up the mental models for our audiences.

Indis gentle guidance kept us on track through this part of the process. Notes from our training sessions with her:

    • Avoid grouping by the nouns. The temptation to cluster tasks around topic is great: resist! You may have five nuggets that contain Buffalo, the city—they dont necessarily belong together.


    • Each voice should appear once and only once per task. This rule forces you to do two things: either to combine two or more nuggets that really represent one idea, or to tease out the subtleties that make each nugget unique.


    • Suspect your combs. If youre just starting out with the mental model framework, youll probably need to rewrite (or as Rebecca kindly puts it, mature) more than half of your nuggets. Thats OK.


    • Realize that the beginning of this is the hardest part. The first few rounds of grouping can be really painfully long and disheartening (wheres the pattern, wheres the pattern?). Grouping goes faster later in the process.


    • Expect the process to be fluid. Deconstructing and reconstructing are part of mental model development. You may touch or relocate each task up to 10 times or more as the mental model builds. Thats better than OK, thats essential.


My humble additions:

    • Resist the need to find a place for every nugget youre combing in. Some nuggets will become tasks or towers eventually—particularly if they represent a philosophy, motivation, feeling, or action that you think would be expressed or experienced by another individual in your audience segment. Sometimes, one can stand alone.


    • Pay attention to when, as well as the what and why. In the matchseeker mental model, for instance, we have towers related to evaluating the city early in the process, during deliberations, and after decisions are made—matchseekers think and do different things related to researching a city as they move through the process. If you dont pay attention to the timing, you can lose valuable information.


  • Give yourself time to think and breathe. Its like doing a crossword puzzle-walking away for a little bit allows your mind to process in the background … to recognize patterns and reach better conclusions. Indi told us to budget three hours on average for each conversation you group into the master-it took us a wee bit more, but we had fun doing it together.

We started grouping together as one large group, working virtually in half-day sessions to get a rhythm and develop some shared sensibilities. Then, to move things along, we divided up into two groups, the Honeycombers and the Mental Supermodels (guess which team I was on!). And for the last stretch, we broke into three teams to finish things up.

And at phase end, weve got four mental models: a matchseeker/pathfinder model, a pulsetaker/prideful belonger/active supporter model, a health solution seeker model, and an IT solution seeker model. And I must admit, I let out a sigh of quiet relief at the conclusion of building each diagram out (a process made infinitely easier by the drag-and-drop diagram capabilities of OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle). Its sort of like being allowed to exhale while the photographer reloads.

Next week, previews of the new models to the information architecture team. Welcome (back) to the catwalk!

  • Voltaire Santos Miran EVP, Web Strategy I've developed and implemented communication strategies in education for more than 20 years now. I think my team at mStoner is the smartest, funniest, and coolest group of colleagues ever, and I can't imagine being anywhere else. Except Barcelona. Or Paris. Or Istanbul. To quote Isak Dinesen, "the cure for everything is salt ... tears, sweat, and the sea."