User experience fundamentals inspired from a sidewalk

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Inspiration can often come from the most unexpected places, and a recent "CrappyDesign" subreddit post perfectly frames one of my favourite UX mantras. In fact, the "Desire Path" concept dumbs down a few usability fundamentals in a super-simple way. Take a look at these two images:

A failed attempt to redirect student foot traffic at Berea College
Desire path created by students at UC Berkeley

The world - online and offline - is full of Berea College examples. What can we learn from UC Berkeley's approach?

Don't try to change customer behaviour

Pay attention, watch and listen to your customers. Let them define the way they want to interact with your product or service - never the other way around. This kind of insight is gold, and should be the primary driver on how we design, market and support what we're selling.

Nobody can predict behaviours flawlessly - least of all, customers

Traditional research techniques like surveys, interviews and focus groups all too often give us unreliable assumptions and hypotheses for two reasons:

  1. Human beings, as it turns out, aren't actually that great at predicting their own behaviours. How we say we'd react to a situation in an interview is often completely different than how we would real life. What sounds good one moment may play out differently in another.
  2. Even if we could accurately predict our feelings, behaviours and preferences, most of us also happen to be pretty miserable at putting them into words. So, while we may sometimes have a good sense of what we like or dislike, communicating these feelings can be sketchy at best.

Research, test, build - and then do it again

Whether we're talking software or sidewalks, conditions are constantly changing. Believing that what was successful last year will yield the same results this time around isn't just lazy - it's reckless. Our customers' behaviours will always be a moving target. And it's only by listening - keeping a reading on their actions and sentiments - that we can ensure that we're always delivering smart, relevant and optimized experience for them.

About the author

Steve Coppola is a user experience & digital marketing professional - and founder of Input UX. With over 25 years of agency experience, he has worked with many of the world's most respected brands in various capacities including UI/UX design, customer research, usability testing, and front end development.
Find out more about Input UX

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