Mariana Morris on Mapping users’ mental models - ADLIB Blog | ADLIB Blog
Creating teams. Shaping futures.
Back to headlines

Mariana Morris on Mapping users’ mental models

We caught up with Mariana Morris ahead of the upcoming UXBristol event, to have a chat about topic “Mapping users’ mental models”. As event sponsors, we took the opportunity to also ask her about her career journeys so far. Mariana Morris is a User Experience Designer and Founder of Fruto.

ADLIB: In a nutshell, what has been your career journey so far, leading you to where you are right now?
Mariana Morris: My background is in Design. I did a BA in Industrial Design (Visual Communication) in Brazil and an MA in Interactive Media in Bristol, UK.

Early in my career, I followed the interaction design path. I’ve always been fascinated with the challenge of creating non-linear interactive experiences. During the BA, I did a few part-time internships as a web designer. I’ve always been grateful for having real work experience before graduating. It was particularly useful to develop the necessary soft skills for working directly with clients.

In my career, for the past 15 years, I worked for design and digital agencies as Interaction or UX Designer. During this time, the role of a web designer developed, putting the user more in the centre of the design process and the web design role gradually matured into what we call UX design today. In my last job I was the Head of UX Design, for three years, at a software development company where I led and managed a team of eight designers and front-end developers.

One year ago, I decided to start my own User Experience agency Fruto. We’re based in Oxford, UK. We design interfaces and experiences for the web, mobile and emerging technologies for tech teams and startups. We also provide UX Design training courses.

I’ve also been teaching at Universities and hoping to encourage graphic design students to pursue a career in UX design, which is an incredibly exciting path.

ADLIB: As an intro to the topic, can you share why you think mapping the users’ mental models is important?
Mariana Morris: When users are frustrated, dropping out or giving negative feedback, often the problem is that their mental models (the way they expect the system to work) don’t match the designed systems. Systems are often designed without a full understanding of how people think. The only way we can design a good experience is to take into account how the target audience would expect it to work and design for that. Knowing users mental models also allows us to innovate, anticipate user needs and delight them.

ADLIB: Can you help with some starting points? Where to start when a mismatch is found? How do you recommend to prioritize fixes?
Mariana Morris: The first step is to understand users needs, behaviours, expectations and goals (what are they trying to achieve). We do this by talking to users in structured but relaxed one-to-one user interviews. Then, we typically run a workshop with the product team to map out the users’ mental models (step by step of how users would expect to accomplish the task they are trying to achieve).

Once we’ve mapped out the users’ mental models, we then map out how the system is currently designed. That’s a simple way to identify unnecessary or complicated steps in the process. Often project teams are trying to fix usability problems at a micro scale, for example fixing elements on individual pages and creating new features. From my experience, often the problem is found at a macro scale, for example, should this page even exist?

A good way to prioritise the fixes is by running a User Story Mapping workshop, where we map out the backlog of issues in relation to the user journey and order them based on how critical they are for the user experience and business goals.

More information about this process can be found on our blog.

ADLIB: What will participants be able to take away from and learn about during your UX Bristol workshop on that topic?
Mariana Morris: In this hands-on workshop, participants will learn practical techniques for identifying and mapping out users’ mental models, match with actual user journeys to improve the user’s experience of their systems.


UX Bristol 2018 is set to be a memorable day of UX workshops. Learn hands-on UX techniques from leading practitioners in a friendly and sociable setting. Tickets and event info via