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User Interface Design: How Consumers Tell You What They Want

06 takeaways from this talk:

00:00:18 The only way to really understand if something is useful is to see how it is used, in the real world, and in context, by real people.

00:00:39 Cities, neighborhoods, and university and business campuses reserve large patches of land for gardens, parks and open spaces, and hire architects and designers to design them and lawn care professionals to maintain them. Yet look at any one of these beautiful locations, and you’ll notice worn, trodden paths of mud and dirt where people walk so often that the grass has disappeared.

Despite the massive amount of money you invested paying professionals to research, design, and craft a product or service, consumers take desire paths: shortcuts to get from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. As humans observe and mimic each other, these shortcuts are self-reinforcing: being used over and over again.

“Desire paths are where design and user experience (UX) diverge. Desire paths are proof of consumer needs & wants.”

00:01:18 When designing a new product, service, or business, design for human need – low friction.

brasilia dangerous desire path

One particularly dangerous desire path located in a grassy park in central Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil, crosses 15 traffic lanes across six separate highway segments, proving that people would rather risk their lives dodging high speed cars than take a few minutes and safely walk around them. Not ironically, Brasilia has 5x more pedestrian accidents than an average US city.

Desire paths say a lot about humans, but what does it say about the designers who continually fail to respond to them?

00:03:16 Aware of the relationship between design and user experience, rather than design their campus park and hope their students navigate it ‘correctly,’ the University of Califorinia, Irvine (UCI) created a blank grassy area in the center of the campus, sat back for a few months while their students created their desire paths, and then simply paved over them.

When designing for people, take the time to figure out what they want.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on understanding what consumers want, read my interview with Brand Listener Peter Spear.]

US National Institute of Health Desire Path

00:04:38 Be responsive to human need. After creating their front walkway to their main entrance, the US National Institute of Health noticed a desire path that jutted out from their intended paved walkway. This desier path lead to a group of hotels where their cancer patients usually stayed. Too tired and nauseous from chemo treatments, patients prefered to walk back to their hotels, taking the path of least resistance. Being a patient-centered facility, the UNIH adapted by paving the desire path to make the trip from hotel to hospital less trudging.

Failing to notice desire paths in your company’s products and services is failing to meet your consumer’s needs & wants. Consumers may suffer through your lack of concern for them, or they may go to your competitor.

00:05:14 Desire paths change with the times and the environment. As the landscape around your products and services evolve, so to will consumer needs, wants, and expectations. Understand your market – where it is today and where it is heading, and as much as possible anticipate desire paths and adapt to them.

Empathy for what your customers want may be the greatest indicator for success.