The false clarity of the User Journey

Alastair Somerville
4 min readOct 8, 2017


This is a second post on material dropped from my EuroIA17 workshop on human centered journeys and information architecture. You can read the first one here.

This is not a big subject but merely pointing out a human bias that both professionals and users often forget about.

Humans like to think that they got to Here and Now through a clear journey of decisions made correctly. Alternative choices and missteps are lost to the unconscious.

Asking people about their journeys and even observing their journeys can get stuck in the idea that the unitary path is obvious and unique.

A Human Perspective Model

A person with senses, memories, perception and reach in the Here and Now.

A person viewing a framed and bounded information space.

This was the core model we built out of Jenga at EuroIA17.

Choices in the Here and Now

In almost all circumstances, there will be alternatives. Whether they are perceivable and comprehensible is a different point (and a key part of the EuroIA workshop).

Still a person when faced with choices will make a decision (thru the escalating and embodied capacities of the mind: unconscious, emotional and conscious).

A choice is made. A subjunctive journey is made. A new choice space is entered.

And thinking about this forward journey is fine and it has personal agency and design opportunities. Forward perspectives have options and choices that are always possible.

Yet we infrequently look back.

The reverse perspective

When looking back, people like to see and talk about the clear user journey of simple choices.

They can easily see the results of their choices but not the moment of choices.

A subjunctive journey of straightforward decisions. An unlikely coherence.

The alternatives are lost.

The alternatives become faded and foggy.

The simple path becomes clearer.

Until only that journey exists. The path.

Too often users and professionals can see choices now and only clear paths in the past.

It’s a bias to keep being human easier.

But it is a bias. We cannot design for the future without picking more clearly over the past.

By being open about the past and the choices we all make, we can understand the future better.

The extraordinary capacity and adaptability of humans is a thing of wonder. We hide it from ourselves and sometimes we need to remind ourselves of it.

To design for the vastness of a future of AI, VR and AR, we need to be aware of how we all hide our choices and capacities from each other.


I also wrote this post after reading a Washington Post article today about Nixon. It included this section.



Alastair Somerville

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

Recommended from Medium


See more recommendations