Lost in User Journeys

Alastair Somerville
4 min readNov 7, 2018

Mapping the user journey is viewed as one of the best ideas, in both UX (User Experience) and Service Design, for designing in a human centred way.

The problem is the user journey mapping tool can get people lost.

  • It can lose human-centred designers in systems.
  • It can lose the memorability of choices and experiences for users.

Journey mapping

Let’s quickly go thru some of the basic ideas.


There is a person who has intents that they wish to satisfy. They set out on a journey to meet those intents, to fulfil their needs.


The user steps out into a world that, both thru natural and human design, is all about attention grabbing.


Generally design tries to help by sorting and clarifying that broad mass of attentional material into a few options.


With a delimited number of recognisable options, the user can make a decision. This is what is known as the Subjunctive Journey – a journey made of choices.


Having decided, the user acts. They do the thing, they buy the product or service, they move on. This moment may not fulfil their overall intent but it’s on the way from misery to happiness (as The Proclaimers sing).

And on we go

And on goes the user, looking for the next thing that will help them meet their intent. Attentive to the next place where options, decisions and actions will happen.

The journey

As a map this all seems fine. It diagrams out the physical and cognitive elements of a person trying to meet their needs.

There is:

  • movement
  • pattern matching
  • decision making
  • action


Lost in the map

There are problems with this technique that create ethical issues.

Losing your humanity

It’s easy to reduce humans down to pinballs in this kind of map. Once you have reduced them down to characters that bounce around looking, sensing, deciding and acting (over and over again), then it’s easy to see only that kind of movement. The map becomes the thing. The user is merely an element, not a human. The human centred design tool becomes a system centred design tool.

However, that’s not the problem I’m worried about at the moment.

The lost journey

The map enables the design that enables the product. So the design and the products support the attention/option,/decision/action, etc. model in some way.

What this can create is an endless journey without any ability to remember what has happened and what matters.


There’s many ways of making things forgettable but a couple are important here.

Too many things

Environments with too much stuff in them are hard to remember.

Overwhelming people in an attentional design economy means it’s hard to remember what choices you had.

Decide, Act, Repeat

Making people decide and act over and over again makes it hard to remember. So many choices, so rapidly, so often. People lose the ability to remember choices and actions and thus lose the ability to judge whether they have done good or bad.

This is particularly true when there are long term consequences to short term decisions. Climate change and obesity are lost in a memory conflict between Decide/Act/Now and Consider/Refrain/Future.

Losing users in our maps

So the user journey map is a problem.

It disassociates designers from users by abstraction.

It enables design that damages users thru forgetting.

As with all tools, it’s not the map that is really at fault. It’s the misuse of the map.

Designers want to get to a product or service as fast as possible to be relevant to their business.

However, in acting that way they get trapped in their own pattern of Attention, Options, Decisions and Actions (often called Design Thinking now) which lose the humanity of their users.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX