Alastair Somerville on his workshop on Orientation and Wayfinding

Alastair Somerville is a sensory design consultant based in the United Kingdom. He provides expert advice on cognition and person-centred design to companies and public organisations who provide both physical and digital products or services. He has facilitated workshops on sensory and emotional design for major conferences and corporations.

This year, he is hosting a virtual workshop with the World IA Association. This is the first time a workshop is offered alongside World IA Day. Today, we’re chatting with Alastair to ask him about the workshop he’s planned for next month.

Live, online workshop on 9 March 2023. An ABCD Approach to Orientation and Wayfinding in Places, Spaces, and Journeys

Q&A with Alastair

Q: How have you been involved with World IA Day before this?

Yes, I’ve spoken at a couple events in the UK before now at World IA Day in Bristol and in London. In 2015, just a lightning talk about Gaps and in 2017, a longer talk about Structuring Space and Nothing. All my talks draw on my experience and research working in cultural spaces and I have been grateful for how open the Information Architecture community has been to someone who does not have much knowledge of digital structures and patterns. This year’s theme is lovely for opening out the space further to so many people who design for humans moving through places and information.

Q: You’re giving the workshop for WIAD23 called “An ABCD Approach to Orientation and Wayfinding in Places, Spaces, and Journeys”. What inspired or prompted you to give this workshop?

The workshop was originally created for English Heritage, a charity that cares for many castles, buildings, and land across England. It was used to align some specialist teams (graphic design, curation, historians, visitor services, community outreach, and education) across an information and interpretation project as to what might help or hinder visitors in enjoying their day out at a large property with many buildings and parks.

ABCD (Alignment, Boundaries, Centered, Direction) theory was a simple way of clearly showing how humans navigate through places. It was also a way to discuss how their information needs shift. That shift is critical to understanding what design assets are useful in different parts of the journey. The shift is between AB and CD — the shift from standing still at the start of a journey and moving through the journey. That our individual movement changes what we perceive and find meaningful.

The workshop has been adapted for use in other contexts over time. I have used it in cultural projects as a pre-kickoff encounter to align people before they start a project. Alignment is so important to people. Sharing time together, sharing language together and sharing differing hopes and intents. So many projects get lost because they rush off down their ‘roads’ and through their ‘journeys’ without spending time together.

Sharing skills and techniques with participants so they can also stop that rush forward is one key purpose in the workshop.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about the concepts behind your workshop? We can imagine what you mean by physical places and digital spaces. But what do you mean by “project journeys”?

“Project journeys” is a phrase I use because many organisations talk of “project roadmaps” and “user journeys”. We think of the process of creating new products and services as being a journey: through time and through experiences and encounters. Given the strength of that metaphor, it seems worthwhile applying wayfinding and orientation methods to it.

As I said earlier about alignment and project kickoff meetings, knowing how humans find their way and why they get lost matters.

Through this workshop (in the podcasts and online encounter), I use the ABCD framework to uncover some ways we all find our way so as to enable discussions of how we can design better for all of us.

Q: Who might benefit the most from this workshop?

The workshop is open to anyone because the issues of wayfinding and orientation affect us all. How we apply the knowledge to our work or our lives may differ. That is why the online part of the workshop is deliberately split into three areas of interest (physical places, digital spaces and project journeys). What matters to any individual participant will differ but sharing our intents and finding people with similar interests to share ideas with matters. For me, the value of any workshop is not necessarily in the tools and processes we present but in the people we meet and the experiences we share.

Q: What kinds of challenges might attendees be able to address after attending this workshop?

I hope participants will leave the workshop with a stronger sense of how they find their way through places, spaces, and projects and a better sense of how they can help others do that too.

Using a human-centered design perspective on wayfinding and orientation issues can help clarify what project research needs to be done and what design work may help (or hinder) people as they travel. Using only system perspectives can create challenges for new products, services and projects. Using our own human viewpoint and capacities can help avoid such challenges. The workshop will provide a solid foundation in wayfinding science and current research. But it’s the time spent together listening and adapting to our own contexts and intents that provides long term value.

Alastair’s workshop has limited spots available.

  • Corporate: USD $200
  • Individual: USD $100
  • Extreme Currency: USD $40


When is the workshop taking place?

The workshop is 4 hours long, depending on where you are in the world, it is taking place at:

  • Pacific Standard Time, 8:00 AM, Thu, Mar 9, 2023
  • Eastern Standard Time, 11:00 AM, Thu, Mar 9, 2023
  • Greenwich Mean Time, 4:00 PM, Thu, Mar 9, 2023
  • Eastern European Standard Time, 6:00 PM, Thu, Mar 9, 2023
  • India Standard Time, 9:30 PM, Thu, Mar 9, 2023
  • Japan Standard Time, 1:00 AM, Fri, Mar 10, 2023
  • New Zealand Daylight Time, 5:00 AM, Fri, Mar 10, 2023

Will there be breaks? 4 hours seems like a really long time.

Of course. We have scheduled breaks throughout the session.

What does my ticket cover?

You’ll receive access to the workshop hub, with podcast and workshop materials. The workshop hub is on Vito, a flexible, privacy-first space for discussions before and after the live workshop.

Workshop tickets do not include access to any local or global World IA Day events. The global keynote is free to attend anyway, but it’s a separate ticketed event.

Can I volunteer?

Yes! World IA Association and all of its operations are run by volunteers. For this workshop, we are accepting 1–2 volunteers to help manage breakout sessions and be on standby for technical support. You’d need to be familiar with the Zoom breakout feature. Email if you’re interested.

What happens to my ticket if I can’t attend?

Your ticket is non-refundable, but you can always transfer your ticket to another person.

Will the workshop be recorded?

The workshop is best attended live since it won’t be recorded. Workshop materials will be available through a private community space for workshop attendees prior to the workshop.

Hope to see you there!

Register at



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Grace G Lau

Information architect / taxonomist / UX researcher-designer based in Greater Los Angeles, California