Stop and Go Back: wayfinding when you are lost

Alastair Somerville
3 min readAug 1, 2020
Diagram of Stop and Go Back that if you feel lost the stop and go back to a point where yiu felt certain

Getting lost is stressful. It becomes harder and harder to make good decisions. Many people who get lost and die in physical spaces, like forests, are often found near to systems of paths but, from a personal perspective, nowhere near safety. Providing advice on how to not get lost is not just about providing better signage and maps, it is about providing ways for individuals to survive when faced by both personal and systemic behavioural biases.


Both physical and digital architectures and experience design are currently biased towards a systemic ideal of frictionless journeys.

Ensuring that people move quickly thru spaces and get to the ending that satisfies the provider, but not necessarily the consumer, is important to both UX and Service Design. Rapid movement thru the system is a key metric for success. Many people, moving quickly thru many touch points to a delimited number of successful transactions. Both buildings and websites are designed on this frictionless theory.

It is a system level bias.

It is not human-centered.

Humans need friction to have a sense of control and an understanding of where they are.

Unless you are designing a water slide, frictionless is bad. It is disorienting.

Stopping matters as it enables people to pay attention to where they are. Attention to where you are in a place or process is fundamental to not getting lost. Building up a journey of memorable pauses is important to people. They know where they are from their embodied perspective on the experience.

Systems must support the human-centered perspective. Not the top-down view of maps and touchpoints but the looking around sense of place.

Put up Stop signs. Create threshold moments that demarcate the journey. These moments of friction build the most important cognitive map for wayfinding: not the one looking forward but the one for going back.

Go back

When people get lost, they keep moving. They keep moving forward. Forward movement is a terrible individual bias in human wayfinding behaviour. People think moving will find the solution. They think going forward will find…

Alastair Somerville

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