Mental Models: Visual Imagery


How might this apply to great teams and cultures?


People can be impacted by the negative stories attached to stereotypes, both through identification, or just labeling others. Stereotypes influence not only hiring, but also performance, appraisals, and feelings of belonging. These biases can be unconsciously triggered with visual imagery that reinforces stereotypes, or by asking people to identify certain characteristics, like race or age. In addition, exposure to positive or negative portrayals of people of a particular identity will unconsciously impact the way that people of that identity perform under pressure. Further research has shown that even background images will affect people’s behavior, both toward others and subconsciously on their own ability to perform.

How might this apply to great products?Are there opportunities to use visuals to create an emotional response or to speed up response time? If you blur all text, does the imagery convey what you want to communicate? Asking “Can a 5 year old understand this?” is a great way to uncover where text can be replaced or reinforced with an image. Use images to elicit emotions, to make literal associations (an icon or avatar) or suggestive associations (see “Priming”).


Think about the language and imagery used inside your organization for internal communications. Do they highlight inclusion rather than exclusion, and opportunity rather than limitation?

See Also

Aesthetic-Usability Effect, Juxtaposition, Priming, Conceptual Metaphor, Proximity, Uniform Connectedness, Contract, Recognition over Recall, Affect Heuristic


In the whirl of our day-to-day interactions, it’s all too easy to forget the nuances that distinguish great teams, great cultures, and great products/services.

Mental Model Flash Cards bring together insights from psychology into an easy reference and brainstorming tool. Each card describes one insight into human behavior and suggests ways to apply this to your teams as well as the design of your products and services.