Perception model: starting with imagination

Alastair Somerville
3 min readSep 12, 2019
Video (No Audio) of Perception cycle

This is a simple model of human perception. It is just for workshop use as a framework for discussions.

It centers human experience in imagination but the model can be accessed at any point: it is a cycle. I prefer to start with imagination as I like to center human capacity on our hopes, aspirations and dreams.

This model ignores something very important (as it is only for the first part of a workshop). It ignores emotion and how emotions coat all our experiences.

Imagination and emotion are hugely important to being human. We are not simply sensing and reacting.

We dream, we hope, we aspire.

These dreams affect how we predict what we can do and perceive the world in which we can take action. To understand user behaviour, you need to ask about what people imagine. Too often these hopes (and fears) are dismissed as lies (compared to the actions that people actually take). However, the actions taken are framed within the boundaries of perceptions that are set by imagination and mental models.

This is also about Free Will and the Libet idea that it does not exist. Only if you choose to freeze particular moments in the cycle is that true. Accepting the totality means Free Will exists because our consciousness drifts so far beyond action thru imagination. The choices we end up making and the actions we take may be held within boundaries that seem to deny Free Will but choosing to only to attend to those moments is to ignore the full breadth and depth of being human.

A cycle model of imagination, sensing, meaning seeking and memory
Mental model: We imagine what we want to do based on our modesl of experiences we had or learnt about
Anticipation: we start to anticipate what we’re going to do and what we expect to happen
Anticipation: as we anticipate, our hopes & imaginations are tempered by what we expect to happen
Prediction: we predict what should happen just prior to acting and adjust our senses and perceptions accordingly
Action: we take action, framed by out mental models, imagination and predictions
Sensing: in taking action we sense & feel, we discover novel things, we experience more than we predicted
Reaction: we react to the consequences of our actions, this may be fun, may be awful
Sensemaking: we try to make sense of what’s happened, how our predictions, action &reaction integrate, what to do with novel
Sensemaking: we lose some experiences as we can’t integrate them with our existing models or they are too overwhelming
Cognition: we attempt to clarify and even justify our experiences to coordinate them with out memories and models
Memory: Novel experiences become memories and become part of out mental models
Memories and models: our memories mix what we have experiences in the past, whr has just happened and things we’re heard abou



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX