Perception/Meaning Blocks – a use case

Alastair Somerville
5 min readMay 3, 2018

I’ve been working with a simple 3D way of using Post It Notes in user journey mapping for a while. I’m preparing a crowdfunding campaign to share the ideas and the product with other people working in UX and Service Design.

This post is a very simple use case to show why I developed them and how they help uncover questions and possibilities.

Going to the museum

I often work on museum accessibility and wayfinding projects. One of the simplest queries that many visitors have on arrival is: where can I pee?

Having travelled for hours, new visitors just want a comfort break. This then enables them to explore and enjoy their museum visit.

It’s a simple question and the answer should be simple too.

However, it’s not and here’s a user journey mapping exercise to show why.

A place

Let’s think of a museum (I am thinking a one near here). There’s an entrance with a bag check security, an entrance hall with information desk and a corridor with toilets at the end of it.


The museum has staff and volunteers. There are security staff, desk staff and general floor staff.

The place is a social space. A visitor could ask these people where the toilets are.

The social space is also filled with other people: maybe family accompanying the visitor, almost certainly a crowd of other visitors.

They fill the place. The place is full of possibilities of conversation.


A physical space full of humans who contain information.

Yet often in design, it’s just their artefacts that are discussed.

There are:

  • Map (on the wall)
  • Signs (along the walls)
  • Apps (on visitor’s phine)
  • Leaflets (at info’ desk)

All of these offer ways of finding where the rest rooms are and how to get to them.

Let’s find out

Every person and every device shares the physical space and offers the possibility of finding the toilets.

People will offer different advice (from “I don’t know” thru “Ask at the Information Desk” to detailed verbal instructions with hand waving).

Maps, leaflets and signs will offer a mix of graphical and textual information.

Apps may simply show that graphic information on the visitor’s device or may offer step-by-step advice.

From a systems perspective, each of these people and artefacts contains the information needed to compete the user journey.

However that information may not be accessible or intelligible.

We need to think about how a visitor can perceive information and how they find meaning in it.

The physical space of people and artefacts is about perception.

The content of conversations and the symbols and text on maps/signs/leaflets and in apps are about meaning.

Reframing with blocks

Let’s use the Perception/Meaning Blocks to reframe the people/artefacts and the conversations/symbols they hold.

From a top down view: we can see a map of information and possible meanings.

Now shift all those elements on the map so they’re turned towards the visitor who is arriving.

Shift perspective.

Look at the environment from a human perspective.

A place full of people and artefacts.

A crowd of possible answers.

Some grabbing attention. Some creating anxiety. Some impossible to perceive.

Proximity and reach become factors. Family and smartphones are nearest. Security staff are the first building staff to be encountered.

What information a visitor can access depends on this.

However good the maps and leaflets are, they are ‘over there’.

The human perspective on the information environment affects how the system works.

Switching perspectives for new questions

You need to map both perspectives to understand how to understand how design can enable better services.

Splitting perception and meaning enables questions about many factors.

  • How can visually impaired people see visual maps and signs?
  • Apps may offer a user centered service but does the visitor know about app or even have a compatible device?
  • Crowds and staff may seem full of possibilities of assistance but ‘Just ask’ may be filled with anxiety about language and social relationships.

You discover more when information is split up.

Crowdfunding a product

So that was an use case example of why I use the blocks and how they help clarify experiences from a systems and human perspective. They help open up questions and allow modelling of other ways of training staff and deploying technology.

User journey maps work but now, and in the future, there is a swirling complexity of social and technical issues to understand.

This technique is useful when discussing Mixed Realities (augmented reality in particular) and smart environments (Internet of Things devices of course). Each depends on user being able to perceive them and then what meaning they can draw out of them.

Same place, many ways of meeting the user intent.

I’ll be crowdfunding manufacture of the Perception/Meaning Blocks soon.

I hope this use case helps you understand why they exist and how they could help enhance your own professional practice.

You can download the A4 brochure leaflet from Dropbox.



Alastair Somerville

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