Mental Models

animation created for an independent project

Purpose & Role

The purpose of this project was to explain the concept of "mental models" through the medium of animation. As this was an personal project, I wrote the script, illustrated the assets and sketched the storyboards in Illustrator, recorded and edited the voice-over in Audition, and animated everything in AfterEffects independently.


I began my research into mental models by reading the section on mental models in "Universal Principles of Design" by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Having gotten a basic understanding of the concept, I looked into other definitions and brainstormed how mental models manifested themselves in everyday life.

The classic example of understanding one's computer as a virtual "desktop" seemed to me to be the most widespread explanation for how mental models influence our interaction with everyday devices and interfaces. In addition to providing a widespread example of mental models that have been reinforced over time, I wanted to provide an example of a widespread mental model that has been broken or challenged. To accomplish this goal, I decided to explain the U.S. government's attempt to shift the widespread mental model of thinking about a balanced diet in terms of a pyramid to a plate. Explaining both examples would help illustrate how mental models are an important but ever evolving part of our interaction with everything around us.

Having worked out the script, I moved into sketching a low-fidelity storyboard, which helped to inform exactly what assets I needed to create. After getting feedback on the storyboards, I created the high-fidelity assets I needed in Illustrator.

A low fidelity storyboard I created in Illustrator with a stylus and compiled in InDesign.
High fidelity assets that I created in Illustrator.

In addition to creating all of the assets, I also recorded and edited my own voice-over to accompany the animation. Once I had edited the audio in Audition, I imported all of my assets and audio into AfterEffects. In AfterEffects I played with each element's timing and motion to bring the story to life. Below is the final result!