Industrial design is not about products. It’s about visual information. The job of the designer is to provide the user with information that they understand, organized in a way that makes interacting with the product intuitive, executed in a manner that makes an emotional connection with the user.
At its heart, design is about organizing information. In the context of product design, it’s about organizing visual information: the characteristics of an object that allow us to understand what it is and how we can interact with it. The characteristics that make the product connect with us emotionally
Our view of the world is informed by the totality of our individual experiences. We learn our way in the world by organizing all its information into what cognitive scientists call “mental models”. The mental models we’ve developed in turn inform the way we react to and interpret new objects and experiences.
The job of design is to match as closely as possible, the object with the mental model we have of similar objects or – in the case of something we’ve never experienced before – the visual characteristics that are similar.
From Mental Models and Usability, by Davidson, Dove and Weltz: “A mental model is an internal scale-model representation of an external reality. It is built on-the-fly, from knowledge of prior experience, schema segments, perception, and problem-solving strategies. A mental model contains minimal information. It is unstable and subject to change. It is used to make decisions in novel circumstances. A mental model must be “runnable” and able to provide feedback on the results. Humans must be able to evaluate the results of action or the consequences of a change of state. They must be able to mentally rehearse their intended actions.”
A well-designed product provides us with familiar visual information, organized in a way that conforms to our mental model of similar information and allows us to interact intuitively with the object.