Desire paths: a warning to marketers and the creatives that serve them.

October 30, 2007

Whenever I leave the gym near work, I hurry to my car by cutting across the grass to the right of the exit.

I am not alone.

The evidence? A path worn into the grass.

Every morning I enter my office building I avoid the oddly inefficient switchback entryway and cut across the grass.

There’s also a well-worn path there.

As I was browsing Your Daily Awesome today, I learned the term for these paths: desire paths.

Beautiful, isn’t it.

Not only are the words beautiful, but the concept is as well. How people’s desires are etched into the world.

It’s also an instructive example for marketers and web developers and copywriters, et al.

When you don’t build a product or a web site that satisfies the desires of real people, they’ll go somewhere else.

It also illustrates the importance of testing.

Your Creative Director or UI specialist may have had valid aesthetic or theoretical reasons why they used certain website graphics or developed a particular site navigation scheme, but if you watch how real people use your site (ideally before you launch a new version), you’ll learn pretty quickly where your site isn’t meeting their needs.

Watch people. Listen to them. The desires you see and hear can be the shortest path to success.

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