Having moved into a brand new housing development this Christmas, I took a relaxing walk in the park this weekend and had some interesting thoughts observations. I wandered for ages and it relaxed me so much but my mind reflected to the last few weeks and my design review session at a client. All of the time I was walking I followed beautiful paths purposefully created and landscaped until I wanted to head in another direction!. This change in course was through some lone trees and toward a greater copse where people walk their dogs in the evening. I suddenly noticed a path I had not seen before, not designed and built but it had something that the other landscaped paths didn’t have. It was beautiful in that it was created by a footfall of many people who have chosen this route not because this was designed that way but because it was the way the people wanted to go!! I looked around further and I was surprised to see almost a dozen paths of trodden grass between the groups of buildings. These paths turned in easy curves and were sized according to traffic flow. Well I wandered for a few hours and returned home completely relaxed but could not sleep much that night, as something troubled me.

What kept me up?

It wasn’t Mrs Ethrenat’s snoring but that always should be considered a factor, No what I was thinking about is that discovery I made, and if there is a word or any way of describing this natural footfall? Sure enough after a few moments on Google I found the term: ‘a desire line’, what a lovely turn of phrase, how poetic this is and one which perfectly describes what I had observed that winter morning. I then started to think about about parallels with the application design sessions of our software architects, builders and landscapers of the building development faced a similar situation to ourselves at Veeva designing systems/applications for our customers. Both of us try to design and implement based on the best known behaviours or sensible movements made from one ‘building/function/system’ to another. Once our applications are created they resemble the physical constructed beauty of that park in many ways.

Then something happens in both scenarios

Then the design becomes everyday life for many, then these easy curves and footfall of ‘The actual user; form paths of desire in both the physical and digital world… If you speak to customers/users you will hear their stories and imagine their breadcrumbs as they move from function to function. Unfortunately the users leave no paths of desire like the park example for us to see. It would not be difficult for the landscapers to come in 12 months later and build beautiful landscaped paths where the desire lines led and truly could boast they designed the park with the public not for the public.

So my question?

Can we learn from digital desire lines? Can we find a way of monitoring the digital footfall? If we could I think we would hugely benefit from using this group to make changes in future UI designs or in current designs.

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