A street path named desire


Recently, I stumbled upon an article about desire paths or desire lanes. Wikipedia describes them as “a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal foot-fall traffic.” 

I’ve been fascinated by these paths for a long time, and have always wondered how they totally outsmart landscape architects and urban designers. I’m similarly fascinated by the way some government officials try to close down these paths, obviously without success. 🙂 Following this article, chances are that you will start seeing them all over the place now! Let us know, if you do! 😉

The desire path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. The path is usually not totally straight and always has some kind of bend to it that’s not necessarily shorter. (Uhm, no scientific explanation so far.) By some they’re seen as a form of civil disobedience, by others as a primal force of nature that pushes human kind to be more efficient or just… plain lazy.

Back in 2012, we integrated the desire path in our suggestions for the week of mobility in the Brussels Region. In 2010 a Korean designer Jae Min Lim suggested to create an ergonomic crosswalk, that is nothing else than integrating the pedestrians desire path into the crosswalk. The idea of creating such a crosswalk was received with much enthusiasm but unfortunately we haven’t seen it in real life just yet.

So why am I reading this in the Indiandribble newsletter?

For us as an activation agency, it’s a small reminder that consumers always tend to do what they like best. Designing an activation or event is one thing. But making sure your consumer starts moving in the direction you’d like him to move, may be something completely different.

So how can we avoid desire paths around our events or activations?

Number One: We need a briefing that is as complete as possible. Tell us who that consumer is and tell us everything you know about him. This is useful for live activation, but is essential for our social campaign architecture. On our side we always talk to the target we’re aiming for. It is amazing what information we get out of these one on one interviews.

Number Two: Don’t be afraid to test live activation. If you’re planning on spending a house on brand activation, we can surely find a way to run a decent test activation that makes sure we get the message to the right target. At Michigan State University, the first year no paths were created on campus. They waited a year and then paved the desire paths. We don’t always have a year, but some things can be finetuned in days.

Number Three: Desire paths are everywhere… Sometimes it’s just smart to support what users are already doing. This works in real life for events, but also in the digital world. Hashtags and ‘@ signs’ were not introduced by twitter initially, their current popularity grew out of community use in chat groups and was later integrated as an official way of communicating. Desire paths may not be on the printed city map, but even google starts picking them up in Google maps !

The festivals are coming and somehow we can’t stop wondering if we could do something with the drone views of the festival grounds to start reorganizing their sites for 2020. Hey it’s just a thought. Keep an eye out for our 2021 june newsletter! 😉

Also good to know: in Dutch they call them ‘olifantenpaadje’, in French ‘chemin de l’âne’, and in German ‘trampelpfad’. What a curious world we live in, am I right?