When you're designing, there will be many occasions when you don't know how to fit some element of the interface into the layout, where do I put the component, what do I call this label, what logic am I going to use for the back button; here comes the topic of the week, the mental models.
A mental model is nothing more than the users' preconceived idea of how a system works, what will happen if you press the button, or where that blue link will lead. Here it is especially useful to stick with Jakob's Law idea, because it is extremely important, "Users spend most of their time on other sites, and they prefer their site to work in the same way as all the other sites they already know".
If they have a preconceived idea about, for example, that a link with the typical icon of opening in new tab opens in the same, it will create unnecessary frustration and confusion to the person who is using the system, even losing credibility and perceived value, leading to the loss of the user after several repeated actions.
Testing must be done to understand the mental model of the users, since there is a serious gap between the mental model of the designer or a business person, when compared to the final user. This is the reason why when we innovate too fast and suddenly, it creates that immediate rejection, since the user's time investment to learn how the system works is perceived as high, that he prefers to go to another more "conservative" page.
In order for the user's mental model to fit the system, we simply have to define personas, validate them with testing, and iterate the design based on the feedback, with a special care for the information architecture, matching the labels and layout with the user's experiences.
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