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A interesting point from the GDS Design Principles: DESIGN WITH DATA
“Normally, we’re not starting from scratch - users are already using our services. This means we can learn from real world behaviour”
A desire path (also known as a desire line, social trail, goat track or bootleg trail) can be a path created as a consequence of foot or bicycle traffic. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination. The width of the path and its erosion are indicators of the amount of use the path receives. Desire paths emerge as shortcuts where constructed ways take a circuitous route, or have gaps, or are lacking entirely.
In Finland, planners are known to visit their parks immediately after the first snowfall, when the existing paths are not visible. People naturally choose desire lines, which are then clearly indicated by their footprints and can be used to guide the routing of new purpose built paths.
Social trails sometimes cut through sensitive habitats and off-limit areas, threatening wildlife and park security. However, social trails also provide to park management an indicator of activity concentration. The National Park Service unit at the Yosemite National Park uses this indicator to help establish its General Management Plan.
Trampling studies have consistently documented that impacts on soil and vegetation occur rapidly with initial use of desire paths. As few as 15 passages over a site can be enough to create a distinct trail, the existence of which then attracts further use. This body of scholarship contributed to the creation of theLeave No Trace education program, which, among other things, teaches that travelers in nature areas should either stay on designated trails or, when off trail, distribute their travel lines so as to not inadvertently create new trails in unsustainable locations.
Land managers have devised a variety of techniques to block the creation of desire paths. These can be seen alongside many trails and include fencing, dense vegetation, or signage. However, social trails still penetrate these barriers. Because of this, state of the art trail design attempts to avoid the need for barriers and restrictions and instead seeks to bring trail layout and user desires in line with each other - both through physical design and through persuasive outreach to users.
- OTHER USES OF THE CONCEPT
The image of a user created path, in seeming defiance of authority, across the earth between the concrete, has captured the imagination of many as a metaphor for, variously, anarchism, intuitive design, individual creativity, or the wisdom of crowds.