Posted by: communicationcloud | November 12, 2009

Harnessing desire paths in the design process

This is a brief follow-up to my previous post, about a customer service experience that felt like an obstacle course.

After reading that post, Chris Atherton drew my attention to the concept of desire paths.

From wikipedia:

A desire path (also known as a desire line or social trail) is a path developed by erosion caused by animal or human footfall. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination.

I thought this was an interesting parallel with my experience of trying to follow my known root from the front door to the cashier’s booth in a bank. All kinds of things about the way the bank was laid out, and other factors, conspired to make it difficult or unpleasant to get there.

What if the bank had designed around the things I wanted to do, rather than getting in my way? That would have been a significantly better experience! On designing around desire paths, the Wikipedia page offers an example:

In Finland, planners are known to visit their parks immediately after the first snowfall, when the existing paths are not visible.

People naturally choose desire lines, which are then clearly indicated by their footprints and can be used to guide the routing of paths.

Nice idea!

I’m not in the business of designing banks, though; I’m interested in improving the customer experience via a website. But I thought the idea of desire paths or desire lines out to be particularly relevant there.

So I did a bit of investigation, and sure enough people are thinking about web design navigation and findability in these terms. I thought this article suggested some interesting ideas on how the concept could be harnessed in the web design process:

desire paths (red ant website)

Are other people out there using this idea?

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