Desire lines…

Behind the offices I work in is a retail park. It doesn’t contain anything really useful for the workers in my work (the only place to buy food is Boots, which can be expensive) but at least it’s a change of scenery, and being able to nip out at lunchtime to get batteries, shaving foam, or even order a new sofa can be useful.

However the really interesting thing about this retail park is how people get to it from my work. We don’t follow the road, instead most people walk through a broken fence down the side of a carpet factory behind our offices. This is a shortcut, and takes us through some trees and onto the retail park in a few seconds. The shorcut isn’t particularly nice (in fact la inamorata refused to go that way once) as it gets muddy, and quite often there is broken glass and other signs of inner city life there. But the worn path throught the grass proves that people use it.

Reading this article from reminded me of this shortcut. Apparently, and I didn’t know this before, landscape architects take notice of where people want to walk, rather than where they laid the paths, around an area so they can redesign according to the users needs. It’s a revolutionary idea, and one that has massive potential implications for web designers.

What if we could do the same? Allow people to click anywhere on a page to get the information they wany, then collect those click coordinates and from the data redesign the site so it meets the users desires? I’m not sure if that would be technically possible, but it does seem an interesting idea to explore. Of course I’ve always tried to think as a user rather than developer when creating websites – even more so with web applications. I don’t like text that is too small, colours that don’t give enough contrast, unintuitive navigation and all the other bugbears of “normal” users, so I try not to put them in my systems. Hopefully I get it right more often than I get it wrong.

So, next time you’re going from the kitchen to the front door, try going the way you want to go rather than the way the path tells you to. If you partner/kids/mum asks why you’re clambering over the sofa rather than going around it you can say you’re just following your desire line.