So, first off, what's a "desire path"?
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.
Here's one from the Desire Path Flickr photo pool:
But can there be such a thing as a desire path when dealing with software, or websites?
I've seen plenty of situations where software users have created elaborate real world workarounds to make up for badly designed software.
Stickies all over someones desktop so that they can remember important info, or tasks to be completed:
or printing screen shots of software for reference, so they don't have to dive into hard to navigate tools...
Can you make the case that these represent user desire paths? The shortest distance between two points--the task, or goal, and the completion of a task or goal?
In landscape architecture, desire paths are communal. One person acts as the trail blazer, and as more and more tread the non-path, a real path emerges. It becomes more and more acceptable to take it. You are basically given permission by everyone who has gone before you. (As an aside, I remember a fascinating video of people crossing a street against a light... it's like we flock across. One maverick pedestrian starts the crossing, and soon it's like the rest of us are compelled into crossing. I guess a desire path is a geographical manifestation of this kind of behavior.)
So, do these stickies, and printout books, represent desire paths? They are definitely short cuts. Are they communal? Often coworkers teach other coworkers how to make them, so that they too can short cut the "pain points" of the crap software they are mandated to use. Or am I just pushing the metaphor too far?
Whatev... I'm gonna start slipping digital or user desire path into conversation, and see if it sticks.