Pave paths

While people can move in many different directions, it’s easiest for them to find their way if the landscape clearly indicates recommended paths. These paths should be continuous, show which direction a person is traveling as they move, and indicate the distance back to the beginning or to the end at a quick glance.

In the real world, most parks have large, open spaces that people can traverse, but they also have paths that provide easy routes, without requiring people to make their way through shrubs and mud. Grocery stores make sure their aisles don’t come to dead ends, and their design indicates that people should move down them in a linear fashion. The sightlines to either end of the store make sure people can tell how far they have moved.

In the digital world, designers make sure check-out paths are very clear, often with indications of what each step entails and how far through the process the customer is at any moment. Similarly, even if we don’t require users to adhere to it, designers often specify optimal onboarding paths for a new tool or service, that users can follow if it seems helpful. In more heavily content-based experiences, like product documentation, we might write a series of tutorials, meant to be experienced in a sequence, to help explain a complex feature to new users.