Yesterday I finished up my somewhat exhaustive study on my latest topic of interest. And by exhaustive study I mean I went spelinking. (See what I did there? It’s like spelunking, only for links.) Yep, I think I’m going to coin that as a new word and start using it. Not sure what else is considered common vernacular these days for going down the rabbit hole of link-following in pursuit of knowledge on a particular topic. From here forward this act shall be known as spelinking. Anyways, before I distracted myself (and you) with the creation of a new word in the English language I was about to share with you the topic which I’ve been finding quite interesting lately.

As many of you know I am obsessed with the user experience, the user interface and how a product is created in order to maximize the positive feelings of the user. (User, user, user what an interesting term. I recently heard this quote and find it fitting…)

“The only businesses where customers are considered users are drug dealers and technology companies.”

As much as that might be a topic which I would love to dive into more, I will save the technology drug idea for another post. Instead, let’s return once again to the topic at hand. (Can you tell this is a Sunday post? We’re a little less formal on the weekends!) The topic for this post is as the title suggests: Desire Paths.

(See how I capitalized both of those words? This signifies importance of the phrasing, as opposed to sentence capitalization which demonstrates something completely different. But that’s the subject for my Google vs Apple post coming soon….)

Desire Paths are an interesting concept.

In the real world desire paths can be demonstrated by something like the following picture:

As you can see the definition should be rather obvious from the picture, but in case you prefer words over pictures (some of us do), here’s a Wikipedia definition for you:

desire path is a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal foot-fall or traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination.
Wikipedia

Then, in simplest terms, the desire path is the fastest and easiest route to get from point A to point B. Usually these paths are identified by the individual navigating the path. And these paths are most noticeable when they stand in opposition to the pre-defined “regulated” path previously constructed by the original designer/developer.

Digital worlds have digital paths too.

Oops, see that word I slipped into that last sentence? Designer. That’s right, desire paths don’t live just in the hard and fast physical world of roads and walkways. Desire paths can live just as easily in the digital world. The digital experience of users can also be filled with desire paths. They may look slightly different but they exist none the less.

At this point you may be wondering what this has to do with Saelos since this is a Saelos Sunday post. First, you shouldn’t be so impatient! This concept of desire paths is a fascinating one and it is well worth your time to understand this concept and its implications. You’ll be better off because of this knowledge and you never know when you’ll stumble across a desire path (either digitally or in real life). And when that moment comes you’ll think, “Aha! I know what this is!”

Paving the way

But second, and I understand, more importantly here is how I think desire paths are relevant and in fact critical to Saelos (and other software apps). I want to see desire paths in Saelos form. I want to see users create new and exciting ways to get things done with Saelos. The best way to make a software application easy-to-use and widely adopted is to build it in the most intuitive and understood way possible. When you lower the barrier to entry or reduce the friction involved with learning and using a new application you increase usage and improve the user experience (drastically).

Allowing for desire paths

Let’s get specific though, how exactly do you allow users to find and create desire paths within a software application? It seems like this is a rather hard to understand concept when we move from the physical realm into the digital landscape. But with a little thought you’ll begin to understand just how easy it can be. Allow me to give you an example.

Saelos has already been released in a beta form. This means you can download it today and begin using it. Is it perfect? Heck no. Is it complete? Absolutely not. But what you have is the framework, the bones, the gravel paths of a world-class CRM application. Why do I say gravel paths? Because they have not been paved yet. There is still time for users to create their own paths, to improve the product by how they use it, and once those paths have been identified they can be paved and the product can be complete. Still not specific enough for you? Don’t get frustrated, I’ll get more specific.

Saelos implements a tagging system.

In fact, I think I’d venture to be so bold as to say Saelos implements an incredibly powerful tagging system. But what makes this specific tagging special is the flexibility. Rather than creating a rigid system for how tags should work within Saelos I designed them to be very extensible. Basically, I created a couple paths for how you might use tagging in Saelos but I didn’t lock anything down. The idea being with a feature like tags I want to see how people use them and what makes the most sense. I want to see what the desire paths are which form naturally by users.

Give paths now, pave the road later.

Really, it follows the thinking of release early and release often. Or, just ship it. This mentality to not wait until perfect before releasing only means what you do release is flexible and capable of adapting to what users want. Only after those desire paths become evident should we go back and pave the way. In other words, after tagging (and other features) are put to use we will better know how to improve them and make them even more user friendly. So whatever the software system you’re designing or creating, always be thinking about desire paths. They allow you the opportunity for your users to define the product and make it perfect. And everyone ends up happier. Listen. Then ship it. Then watch.