This is Virginia Tech's Drillfield. It is an oval-shaped, grassy stretch of land bordered by trees It serves as the center of the Blacksburg campus and remains one of the most unique and storied locations at the university. During my freshman year, I stayed in the dorms on one side of the field, and had my classes on the other. My day wouldn't be normal if I wasn't crossing the field at least once a day. It was this short experience where I would be walking back to the dorms with a big relief, or running as quick as I can as not to miss my 8 am, 4-hr design studio.
My crossing experience was similar to other students. Although, something more interesting is that not every student is walking on the already established path. People made their own paths. For what reason? It's shorter, and quicker to their destination. This is called a desire line, or a desire path.
Desire paths or lines, are those trails you see in areas where people have taken a shortcut across the grass because there is no constructed path, or because the official path takes too circuitous a route. UX designers can learn from desire lines.
When we establish our designs/paths, that's not usually how people use your products. Twitter and Instagram's limitation on character count gave users the idea of screenshotting their notes from the Notes app to able to write more on their posts.
Desire Lines/Paths in UX examples:
Search option on any website
Autocorrect and autocomplete
The dynamic buttons that follow as you scroll down
Some of the desire paths on the Drillfield have now been paved.
Why does it matter in UX?
Desire lines can help shape your product in terms of usability. Steve Krug, author of Don't Make Me Think, makes the case for the clickable logo on the upper right, or the home button as a way for users to not get lost in the depths of multiple categories and pages. A website can be an obstacle course. Designers should also understand the real needs of users, without assumptions about what users think they need.
Below is a video from Cheddar about desire lines.