Desire Paths – Not As Lame As You Think

The term ‘Desire Path’ at first glance seems like the next big life coaching mantra, yet oddly enough, it’s actually a landscape architecture term – who knew?

Desire Path: A term in landscape architecture used to describe a path that isn’t designed but rather is worn casually away by people finding the shortest distance between two points.

Anyone who has been to a public park, a government building, a campus, or any place where numbers of people travel through, and landscapers have tried to make things look nice – have seen these paths (aka. cattle path).

Desire Path

At first one typically wonders why the heck the landscape architect didn’t just design it this way, considering this is how people are clearly using the space. Are architects THAT arrogant that they just assume they can force people (society) to conform to their will? This is usually followed up with something along the lines of just how stupidly lazy people are and how they have no respect for anything… One would think that at some point, someone might have said “Yes, that is very nice looking, however, I wonder if we might just cut this corner with the pathway (for the cattle-people), save some lawn maintenance in the long run, and focus our architectural genius somewhere else where it might be more appreciated..”.

When we step back a bit from trampled lawns, this concept of ‘desire paths’ does actually have some realistic applications to… well, quite a bit actually. Even just looking at something like web design, the landscape architects have determined how the site is supposed to look and function, yet don’t our analytics show us the true desire path?

I first came across the term through a comment left on Ben Terrett’s post about how big companies take little ideas which grow over time as more and more realize just how useful it is – much like the desire paths worn down over time as more and more see it as the superior path.

Desire paths are the result of, or the reason for, efficiency. To improve upon efficiency, all we need to do is look at the existing desire path and figure out how to incorporate it into what we are already doing. The great part is that these pathways already exist, they’ve improved over time and use, and they have a proven track record (no pun intended).

On the other hand, we need to anticipate desire paths too when designing/creating something. We may need to strip out some overall look to improve functionality and allow people to get from point A to point B more easily – they’re going to do it anyways, or curse you for not being able to do it…

Anticipation of desire paths, I feel, is just as important as being able to incorporate them when new ones are recognized.

Desire Paths – who knew?

Photo by happypixel