The Desire Path


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Alicia Dudek's Blog

And then along come real people who use our sites and view our pages, however they like. These people are creating desire lines through our websites. A better approach would be to understand where the desire lines in our sites being created and adjust our designs to those desire lines. We can apply the idea of desire lines to visual flow in your design , creation of new content, increasing traffic into your site, and how people generally interact with your website.

Desire-path dictionary definition | desire-path defined

When people can contribute anonymously without worry of social repercussions, honest answers emerge. When aggregated, these honest answers will represent collective intelligence. We want to get at that collective intelligence so users of our systems can let us know how we can improve them and design them better. How do we understand what our audience wants, what it desires? What can we do to determine desire lines on our site? Much of the above is about analytics, about measuring how people are using your site.

Desire paths: the unofficial footpaths that frustrate, captivate campus planners

These statistics, particularly in-site search show what users want from your website, not what they say they want, but what they actually want and do. You can try seeking direct feedback from users in the actual moment they are using your site. Keep in mind that the desire of one or two individuals is not a desire line or at least not a strong desire line.

'Let's bring back the dignity of walking': being on foot in your city

It takes more than a couple of people to carve a path through a field. Understanding desire lines is only part of the equation. Knowing what people want is one thing. Acting on that information is another. What can you do with the information you gather? If people are actively searching for things on your site you should first determine if you have what they want somewhere on the site.

Is it something you can add to your main navigation? Could you find some way to feature that content better? Maybe you need to link to that content from within the pages where people are searching. People are searching for it. They expect you to have it somewhere so create it. Give people what they desire. Similarly when looking through your stats discover the content people are finding and are consuming and give them more of that content. Look for themes in the content people are finding and consuming and let it shape your choices for future content.

This can be a good way to increase your search traffic. If you notice certain pages of your site are doing well pulling search traffic, you can create new and similar though not the same content on the same topic. It could be a sign that your site has reached a level of authority where it can compete on keywords around that topic. By adding more content around the same keyword theme you can bootstrap your traffic from long tail keywords toward keyword phrases found in the head of search.

Look at the other sites sending traffic to your site and strengthen your presence with those sources.

Desire path

Is one site sending you traffic month over month? Build a relationship with the people behind that site. Does one article consistently send traffic back to your site? Help promote that article.


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Get more people to enter that path. Make that path back to you site wider. Did you create a series of posts expecting that people would read through them linearly? Are they? Or do people stop reading after one of the posts in the series? Do they skip one of the posts in the series? Learn from how people are clicking between your pages to restructure these click paths to be more in line with the paths people actually take. Desire paths sometimes cut through sensitive habitats and off-limit areas, threatening wildlife and park security. However, they also provide an indicator to park management of activity concentration.

Area of origin

Trampling studies have consistently documented that impacts on soil and vegetation occur rapidly with initial use of desire paths. As few as 15 passages over a site can be enough to create a distinct trail, the existence of which then attracts further use. Land managers have devised a variety of techniques to block the creation of desire paths including fences, dense vegetation, or signage. However, hikers still penetrate these barriers. Because of this, state of the art trail design attempts to avoid the need for barriers and restrictions and instead seeks to bring trail layout and user desires in line with each other — both through physical design and through persuasive outreach to users.

Landscapers sometimes accommodate desire paths by paving them and integrating them into the official path network rather than blocking them. In some cases, land planners have deliberately left land fully or partially unpathed, waiting to see what desire paths are created, and then paving those. In other cases, access to desired paths may be blocked in an attempt to enforce use of official paths. Remedies applied may include fencing off desired paths, erection of signs forbidding the use of desired paths and re-vegetating well worn paths.

Desire Paths: When Urban Planning Fails

The image of a user-created path, in seeming defiance of authority, across the earth between the concrete, has captured the imagination of many as a metaphor for, variously, anarchism , intuitive design , individual creativity , or the wisdom of crowds. In urban planning , the concept of desire paths can be used when analyzing traffic patterns in any mode of travel.

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See, for example, its use in the Chicago Area Transportation Study to describe choices commuters made about railroad and subway trips. In software design, the term is used to describe the action of people widely adopting the same methods to overcome the limitations of the software they are using. Spontaneous, emergent order. Desire paths are the physical manifestation of an intangible truth: life finds a way. There is an innate, instinctual drive to take advantage of every opportunity and bridge every gap.

A drive to take the shortest cut and blaze a trail. Because desire paths are born from life, where ever you find life, you find desire paths. So what do we do with them? The paved sidewalks and chained-in grassy areas on college campuses and public parks suggest they are a problem to be solved.

Taking a shortcut through the landscaped common area in lieu of a paved route is not the way things were designed. So while desire paths may scar a meticulously designed and beautifully maintained landscape, objecting to or trying to stop their use is a Sisyphean task. Frank Lloyd Wright was said to apply the same tactic. Or take universities. From there, they need only pave them. Student lore at Michigan State University seen below , Ohio State University, and Reed College [3] all talks of how this was the process that drove their campus sidewalk layouts.

Desire paths are symbolic of how people figure out new and easier ways to get some job done. Within these creations users have immense freedom to go their own way. Desire paths are a natural outcome. At the most basic level, messaging emerged as a direct, instant way to communicate by text with other people. While the idea of shopping by chat may feel foreign to many in the U. And a third messaging-related example is chat-based customer support services like Intercom. When users feel the marked paths leave them feeling lost with no clear way to go, these services give them a paved path toward getting answers.

Before the iPhone, using OTA messaging services, taking and sharing photos, etc.

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