UX and product design. The importance of designing in the desire paths

By Jon, Eastpoint Software on 17 June 2019

“You are not the user.” 

It’s a statement I’ve carried with me for years. Printed in Times New Roman onto a piece of crumpled A4, it was tacked to the wall by the developers I worked with at the time. A ready reminder that a committee of one will design a suboptimal solution. How something looks is very different to how it works for the user. 

The real-world result, certainly where human intervention has created walking and cycling infrastructure, are desire paths. Those muddy deviations from the prescribed route signpost failure. Emphasis on appearance rather than function. As cognitive beings we naturally choose, where enabled the shortest route from A to B. When one of us breaks rank, we all break rank and create something more to our liking. Until a fence is put up. 

Desire paths can’t exist in a digital environment however. There is no shortcut through the trees. The way users vote with their feet is by logging out permanently. The alternative route is to use another application. How valuable the application is or how it looks to the user is secondary. If it’s frustrating to use that’s the thing users remember.  

When you’re building an application, for web or for mobile, investment in product design is money well spent. Incremental improvements in response to user feedback is inevitable, however wholesale re-engineering after launch is costly and disruptive. At Eastpoint our product and design specialists are integrated into the team, working alongside clients and engineers to ensure the user is considered in every decision. The result has been a reduction in the amount of aesthetic rework we quote for, so there’s no question it’s having an impact. 

There is no silver bullet. Each use case is nuanced and, on every project, we’re learning something new, effectively actioning each discovery. Removing the silos and valuing each aspect of the development equally is how you avoid the muddy paths. 

Search ‘false consensus effect’ for further reading on the subject, but before you do that, contact Eastpoint to discuss your next digital project.