Desire paths: Part 1 / by britton shepard

Intuitive Wayfinding + Accurate Design

Desire paths have always existed in the built environment, and go by many names: desire line, cow path, goat track, use path, beeline, sheep path, social trail, bootleg trail, coffin path, shortcut, and indian corner are a few. Usually, a desire path is the preferred path, an alternative way to go that solves a particular problem or makes more sense than the walking path provided. Once taken, the innovated path is followed. 



Here, tracks in the snow record and reveal a poetic, fleeting quality of creatures moving through the landscape, evocative of landscape architects drawing on trace paper. They also suggest the in-the-moment, emergent nature of desire, organization, and way finding. In the center image above, regular snow shoveling follows the known desire paths of plaza users. On the right, trodden down snow is slower to melt, revealing a photo-negative desire path.

There are many strong precedents for the reading of desire paths in design…more on that later.