Paving the Goat Paths


Paving the Goat Paths

By Dan Elliott

Reddit is a curious place. There are subreddits for the niche-est things but one of my favorites (after /r/ProgrammerHumor/ and /r/pugs/ ) is /r/DesirePath/ . Often town and park planners will lay footpaths out in nice precise, straight lines, in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. But, over time easier to follow or more direct paths will appear. These are called desire paths. Eventually, local authorities tend to either pave these strips of dead grass or try to put up barriers to stop them being used.

This is a great metaphor for User Experience vs Design. We might design a website to funnel users through a particular set of steps that we think is optimal. But, we find that some users are doing it differently. Here’s an example.

You build an ecommerce site.

You intend for users to go: Homepage -> Product Search -> Product Page -> Checkout

Instead you see lots of users go: Homepage -> Product Category -> Product Page -> Checkout

So what do you do? Some webmasters might belligerently think they know best and try to block these users from doing their own thing, or promote the original path harder.

This is a mistake, users will always find gaps, bugs, shortcuts and their own way of doing things. To stifle them is to frustrate them, and drive them off the site.

A real life example are Hashtags on twitter. They were popularised by a user trying to report on the San Diego wildfires in 2007. By consistently tagging posts with ‘#sandiegofire’ it was easier for other users to search for updates. Eventually twitter caught on, now hashtags are virtually everywhere. #randomfacts

First thing’s first, you have to identify these desire paths. There are loads of ways to do this including but not limited to: 

  • Heuristic Analysis
  • User journey analysis
  • Analysing recorded user testing
  • Heatmaps

Once you’ve spotted a desire path, pave it! If a discovered path converts better than your intended one, do some tests to see if that might be a better solution than your original design. If not, just make it as easy as possible to follow as a secondary route to conversion.

As always remember this: You are not the user

Do not project the way you do things on to your audience, they don’t have the same knowledge and experiences of your website as you. To assume that users will behave the same as you is a big trap door over a pit of lost conversions.

If you want to find out more about our awesome cow paving services, get in touch! We can discuss your requirements and come up with an end to end strategy for boosting your site’s efficiency.




Contact Us

Do you have a challenge for us to solve?

get in touch

We're here to help

During this period of uncertainty we are still operating at 100%. Our brilliant team are working remotely at the same fast pace and to the same high quality. Whether you need support or are an existing client, we're here for you.

Find Out More