What shortcuts reveal about active use versus suggested design.
I'm sorry to report that I'm leaning into TikToks (😬).
My most recent foray is on Desire Lines — the shortcuts created through active use rather than suggested design. These are also called desire paths, herd paths, or social trails. Oh, remember that I've been cataloging these over at my EverydayConcepts.io site!
The concept of desire lines is one of those where once you start to see it, you'll notice it everywhere.
I'm trying to be more abstract with my drawing, but it's essentially a picture of a sidewalk with a kink in it, where you have a brown path — a worn area created by people taking a shortcut instead.
Desire lines are not inherently "wrong" or harmful. They're helpful in figuring out patterns of use, preferences, shortcuts, all of it!
This concept's excellent because it's not limited to dirt pathways but is present in many aspects of life, society, and our lived experiences.
Sometimes usability testers will create heat maps these maps to understand the "shortcut" that our eyes (and subsequently our attention) take across a screen.
There's even a fun little Subreddit, DesirePath, with plenty of excellent examples — and lots from surprising contexts!
Desire lines don't always help us establish the best way to go from point A to point B. Sometimes those shortcuts have real costs associated with them, and sometimes those costs can be more than just getting your shoes dirty. Everything from the shortcuts we take in food (delivery over preparation) to habits (the shortest route to working out 3x per week is just not to do it!) What's fastest might not be what's best.
I love the concept of desire lines in daily life because it shows us the world as it is and not how it's ideally designed. It's a reminder that we can rarely design systems entirely from the start and that preferences, efficiencies, and, yes, even laziness, will often guide their use.
Where do you find desire lines in your everyday life?
What Else I'm Reading
A dissenting view on the origins of the US's Right wing | Aeon Essays — This article is about the lost Cowboy Progressives. As someone who grew up in Kansas and remembers a streak of a democratic populism before it was subsumed by social conservatism and the right.
Agile and the Long Crisis of Software — One of the better place settings for Agile (software development) out there. The trends highlighted here are pernicious in DC, where folks are still catching up to "making their teams Agile" in the first place.
The Oral History of 'PCU', the Culture Wars Cult Classic — I think about this film more than I realized.
TikTok's Algorithm Spews Out Viral Villains - The Atlantic — Yeah, this is going to be a growing trend. It's like that Twitter line, "Each day on Twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it."
Snapchat has a new lens to help you learn the American Sign Language alphabet - The Verge — These are my favorite advances in technology.
Thanks for reading,