Conceptual Models

Your constantly-updated definition of Conceptual Models and collection of videos and articles

What are Conceptual Models?

Conceptual models are abstract, psychological representations of how tasks should be carried out. People use conceptual models subconsciously and intuitively as a way of systematizing processes.

For example, a common mental model for creating appointments involves calendars and diaries. Knowing about the prevalence and power of conceptual models guides designers to tailor software that matches users’ conceptual models.

By creating interfaces and apps that echo conceptual models, designers build on existing knowledge and frameworks, making it easier for the users to learn how to use the new product.

Typically, conceptual models are identified at the beginning of the design process and are referenced to constantly for direction and inspiration throughout the design process.

Questions related to Conceptual Models

What are examples of conceptual models?

Conceptual models provide a framework for users to grasp system functionalities. In the MatchDog project, a conceptual model was developed for a matchmaking app for dog owners. It includes user profiles, dog profiles, a chat system, and event creation, simulating real-life dog meetups. This model ensures that the app mirrors real-world interactions, making it intuitive for users. For a comprehensive look into the product and benefits of the MatchDog project's conceptual model, explore the full article on Interaction Design Foundation.

Get your free template for “Conceptual Model Templates”
Conceptual Model Templates Conceptual Model Templates
Secure form
Please provide your name.
We respect your privacy
Please provide a valid email address.
313,100 designers enjoy our newsletter—sure you don’t want to receive it?

What are the three types of conceptual modeling?

Conceptual modeling in UX encompasses three main types: Mental Models, based on individual users' internal cognitive processes and perceptions; Represented Models, which designers create to display the functionality and content of systems; and System Images, stemming from the system's physical and digital representation, including interfaces and documentation. These models ensure that users and designers share understanding, facilitating seamless system interactions. Dive deeper into conceptual modeling for mobile applications with Interaction Design Foundation.

What is conceptual model in UX?

In UX design, a conceptual model provides a mental framework that users rely on to predict and understand a system's functionality. It bridges the gap between user expectations and the product's functions, ensuring an intuitive user experience. The shopping cart in ecommerce sites is perhaps the most common example of a conceptual model. Users have a set of expectations on its behavior from their experience in the real world. A well-defined conceptual model aligns with users' mental models, minimizing confusion and enhancing usability. Dive deeper into the intricacies of conceptual modeling for mobile applications on Interaction Design Foundation.

What are the elements of a conceptual model?

A conceptual model in UX design consists of several key elements:

  1. Entities: the people, places, and things that are involved in the system or product. They are the main components that users interact with or manipulate. For example, in a word processor, the entities are the documents, fonts, images, etc.

  2. Relationships: how the entities are connected or related to each other. They define the rules and logic of the system or product. For example, in a word processor, the relationships are how the documents can be saved, opened, edited, printed, etc.

  3. Constraints: the limitations or restrictions that apply to the entities or relationships. They define the boundaries and conditions of the system or product. For example, in a word processor, the constraints are the file formats, storage space, printing options, etc.

These elements create a mental framework for users, guiding their expectations and interactions with a system. For a deeper insight into conceptual modeling for mobile applications, visit Interaction Design Foundation.

What is a conceptual vs a theoretical model?

In the context of design and research, a Conceptual Model outlines relationships between different elements in a system, simplifying complex concepts into understandable representations. It's a visual or descriptive explanation of how things work. Conversely, a Theoretical Model builds upon established theories, often drawing from academic or scientific principles to explain or predict phenomena. While both provide frameworks, the conceptual model offers a practical understanding, while the theoretical model leans on foundational knowledge and hypotheses. 

What is a conceptual vs a empirical model?

A Conceptual Model offers a visual or descriptive framework, illustrating relationships among different elements within a system. It simplifies complex ideas into an understandable representation. On the other hand, an Empirical Model is derived from data and observations, providing mathematical or statistical terms of real-world phenomena. While a conceptual model lays out a clear mental picture of a system, an empirical model is rooted in experimental evidence. 

Is a flowchart a conceptual model?

A flowchart is a dynamic description of a conceptual model. It shows the detailed interaction between components of a system and its users. In software modelling it has largely been replaced by UML activity diagrams that serve the same purpose. The conceptual model itself is a static diagram that shows concepts and the relationships between them. As an example, consider the shopping cart in most ecommerce sites. The conceptual model would show the cart and the relationship it has to items being ordered, the checkout process and delivery. A flowchar or activity diagram would detail the steps involved in the interactions between these components in the system and the user. 

Show Hide video transcript
  1. Transcript loading…

A flowchart can pinpoint how screen designs can intuitively support each task or feature by detailing user journeys step-by-step. This ensures the design aligns seamlessly with users' natural workflows, enhancing the overall user experience.

Is a conceptual model a mental model?

No, a conceptual model and a mental model are distinct. A conceptual model is a representation designers create to convey a system's functionality and behavior. In contrast, a mental model represents users' beliefs and assumptions about that system. While conceptual models guide design decisions, mental models shape user expectations. Aligning both models ensures intuitive user experiences. 

Is a conceptual framework qualitative or quantitative?

A conceptual framework can be both qualitative and quantitative.It serves as a foundation, guiding research by clarifying concepts and relationships. Whether applied to qualitative observations or quantitative measurements, the framework aids in understanding and interpreting data. The choice between qualitative or quantitative depends on the research question and methodology.

Where to learn more about conceptual models?

Dive deep into conceptual models with our Mobile UX Strategy course for comprehensive insights and practical applications. Short on time? Gain a quick grasp with our focused masterclass on intuitive design. Both resources are tailored to provide you with expert knowledge and actionable tools. Start now and refine your design skills!

Literature on Conceptual Models

Here’s the entire UX literature on Conceptual Models by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Conceptual Models

Take a deep dive into Conceptual Models with our course Interaction Design for Usability .

This course will teach you fundamental usability concepts and methods and will tie them together with interaction and visual design. By completing the course, you will become equipped with the tools required to create products with outstanding user experience and usability. Your newly acquired knowledge will also enable you to reduce the costs, risk, and time required to design and implement such products.

You’ll learn to adopt a user-centered approach to UX design and usability so you can create user-friendly products that people love to use—for example, by allowing for user errors and providing timely feedback messages. More importantly, it is crucial that your entire team—developers, project managers, and product owners alike—adopt this holistic, user-centered mindset. This course therefore aims to provide any team member with just that: it will not only equip you with fundamental usability and design concepts, but also introduce you to lean and agile processes that will allow your whole team to become design-centric.

You should take this course if you belong to a team whose goal is to create a great product—whatever role you play in that. The fact of the matter is that usability experts and UX designers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the people who influence the design of a product. A sound understanding of user-centered design processes is thus greatly beneficial whether you’re a UX designer, developer, or a newcomer to design who wants to be part of a product team one day.

All open-source articles on Conceptual Models

Please check the value and try again.

Open Access—Link to us!

We believe in Open Access and the democratization of knowledge. Unfortunately, world-class educational materials such as this page are normally hidden behind paywalls or in expensive textbooks.

If you want this to change, , link to us, or join us to help us democratize design knowledge!

Share Knowledge, Get Respect!

Share on:

or copy link

Cite according to academic standards

Simply copy and paste the text below into your bibliographic reference list, onto your blog, or anywhere else. You can also just hyperlink to this page.

Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF. (2016, June 2). What are Conceptual Models?. Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF.

New to UX Design? We’re Giving You a Free ebook!

The Basics of User Experience Design

Download our free ebook The Basics of User Experience Design to learn about core concepts of UX design.

In 9 chapters, we’ll cover: conducting user interviews, design thinking, interaction design, mobile UX design, usability, UX research, and many more!

A valid email address is required.
313,100 designers enjoy our newsletter—sure you don’t want to receive it?