What is a Desire Path?

This past week I have been on a podcast binge, working through the long list of episodes I had abandoned the past few weeks. An episode from 99% invisible, specifically episode 263- You Should Do a Story, introduced a concept I had yet to hear of: Desire Paths.

For those of you who, like me, have not heard of this term, a quick wikipedia search with provide you with this definition: A desire path (formally referred to as desire line in transportation planning) can be a path created as a consequence of erosion caused by human or animal foot-fall or traffic. Simply put, they are unplanned paths that result from repeated use.

Desire Paths can be found everywhere you look. On college campuses, it is the worn path left behind from the daily shortcut students take through the grass. In the winter, it is the paths we create when all the sidewalks and pre-determined paths are covered by snow. In the woods, it is the beaten path of hikers creating their own trail.

So what does this have to do with design? A lot.

The first, and most obvious, application for utilizing desire paths is in architecture. Landscape architects place paths which they anticipate people will follow. Desire paths are evidence that people often create their own routes, based on what they determine to be the most convenient or enjoyable. Experiments that use desire paths to inform architects PRIOR to adding permanent infrastructure will allow space to be better utilized and/or preserved.

In transportation planning, desire paths (referred to as desire lines within this context) can translate into new bus routes or other urban transit solutions that follow the desired A to B route. A revealing use of desire lines is looking where snow-covered roads are left untouched by cars. These “sneckdowns” are prime locations for curb extensions; if the space isn’t needed when there is snow, then it isn’t needed at all.

Video screen capture Streetfilms

Video screen capture Streetfilms

This concept can be applied beyond the physical paths we create. Usability designers study desire paths to understand genuine interaction between humans and technology. When there is desire or need, humans will figure out a way to get from one point to another. It might be by utilizing software in a way it wasn’t initially intended, or choosing actions that don’t correlate to the designer’s wireframes. These desire paths bring transparency to user purpose and help designers further innovate.

Sources/Additional Reading:
There is a flickr group dedicated to desire paths!

Lindsay Schultz
Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.

What is product semantics and why is it important?

Product semantics was defined by Klaus Krippendorff and Reinhart Butter as, “the study of the symbolic qualities of man-made forms in the context of their use and the application of this knowledge to industrial design.” By symbolic qualities, they are referring to the psychological, social and cultural context of a product, as opposed to only considering a product’s physical and physiological functions. This blog post serves to highlight the main points of their article, Product Semantics: Exploring the Symbolic Qualities of Form, which was published in the journal of the Industrial Designers Society of America in 1984.

  • An object's form says three things:
    1. Something about the object itself
    2. Something about the larger context of its use
    3. Something about the user who interacts with it and develops a conceptual connection.

    For example, when looking at a remote control, certain buttons will be recognized as “push buttons”, and therefore suggest that you “push them”. The button’s shape, location on the remote, and label can suggest what the consequence of pushing it will have. On my tv remote, I recognize the power button by the semantic meaning of the icon, the red color, it being the only round button, and its top location on the remote.
  • Communication (of product semantics) between a designer and a user cannot be described as linear because objects gain meaning through user interaction and their individual interpretations. As such, designers could be seen as contributing communicator.

    There are four channels that meanings relevant to product design can be communicated:
    1. Information Displays (ex. the interface of the Vantage Panoramic X-ray)
    2. Graphic elements or two-dimensional markers (ex. the buttons (icons, shape, color) on the Suretrace Circuit Tracer)
    3. A products form, shape and texture (ex. the symbolic (and easily recognized) form of the Durathon Steam Iron)
    4. Indications of a product’s internal states (ex. the indicators surrounding the Weber Spirit grill’s control knobs)
  • Krippendorff and Butter identified four main opportunities for error when designing without respect for product semantics:
    1. Designing a product unidentifiable by users.
    2. Designing a product that does not promote manipulating it in the proper way. For example, if the location and type of controls placed on a panel are not logical in terms of the user’s mental model of the object.
    3. Designing a product that lacks transparency and limits user exploration (non-harmful). Simply put, designing a product that makes you read a detailed manual to figure out, rather than using your own curiosity to explore its possibilities.
    4. Designing a product that does not fit into the symbolic environment it will exist within.

I have always been fascinated with the impact “bad design” can have to a user. While the 4 points above seem obvious, it can be easy to ignore 1 while focusing on the others. While not all product design has extreme repercussions, designers should always design products to the highest standard for the users. I had a professor that would always say, “People are stupid, consider that when designing each aspect of a product.” While this is an exaggeration, do we really want people to have to think hard to use a product? Do they want to? And what if they can’t use any previous knowledges to influence their ability to use said object? When the stakes are high, product semantics can make or break an object's success.

Source: Krippendorff, K., & Butter, R (1984). Product semantics: Exploring the symbolic qualities of form. Innovation, 3(2), 4-9. Retrieved from http://repository.upenn.edu/asc_papers/40

Lindsay Schultz
Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.

Pinterest for Designers


Pinterest, the image-based social network, is not exclusively for those of the DIY and crafting variety. I have found that the benefits of using Pinterest are often overlooked in a professional design setting. Pinterest is an invaluable tool in my designer toolbox! Whether or not you are already using Pinterest, read through these 3 tips on how to optimize your pinning for your design process.

  1. Download the Pinterest browser button
    Adding the Pinterest button to your browser’s toolbar is a quick way to positively influence your pinning habits. For people that do not usually go on Pinterest for design inspiration, this can be a nice middle ground; you benefit from the same visual bookmarking tools while still roaming through your other favorite sources for inspiration.
  2. Pin to a secret board
    If you are searching for inspiration on a project at work, you most likely will not want your pins broadcasted to the masses. Enter the Secret Pinterest Board. This feature enables you to make any new board a secret, which opens up the opportunity to utilize the bookmarking tool sans the public broadcasting. Simply put, any activity within your secret boards will not be published. Another great feature of secret boards is that you can invite others - co-workers, for example - to collaborate with you, whilst maintaining the boards secrecy. Warning: once a board is made public, it cannot be switched to private.
  3. Don't overlook the benefits of a description
    It is very easy spend hours scouring the internet for product inspiration. A designer might spend quality time searching for innovative applications for details like product handles or buttons. Between the action of discovering an image and pinning it to a board, there is a spark, a meaning behind choosing to pin that particular image for that particular product search. I would advise you to make a note of your reasoning in the pin description field. This is especially useful when you are sharing your board with teammates; a small detail that was very striking to you may be overlooked by others. It is also a great reference for yourself when you begin the process of looking through your pins and digesting your findings. Note: I find this tip to be most relevant on secret boards. For public pins, consider using detailed and keyword-rich descriptions like buffer recommends.


    Lindsay Schultz
    Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.

    History of Industrial Design

    When looking for a clear picture of the History of Industrial Design, I found a lot of nuggets of information, but never a full picture. I have put together the information I had collected from these many sites, creating a more cohesive timeline.

    The Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain, introduced a shift to powered, special-purpose machinery, factories and mass production.

    During the Great Exhibition held in Britain, Europe was introduced to America’s developments of modern industrial mass production and functionalism.

    The Practical Draughtsman's Book of Industrial Design by Jacques-Eugène Armengaud was printed. The Subtitle states that it wants to offer “complete course of mechanical, engineering, and architectural drawing.”

    Early 1900s
    Concepts such as efficiency, standardization and functionality became popular.

    Deutscher Werkbund, focused on the integration of traditional crafts and industrial mass-produced techniques, was founded. (Precursor to Bauhaus)

    After World War 1, the USA experienced rapid technological growth and industrial development.

    The first use of the term "industrial design" is attributed to the New Zealand designer Joseph Claude Sinel.

    Industrial Designers start mass-producing goods like automobiles, trains and electrical appliances.

    Walter Dorwin Teague created the first design offices.

    The Great Depression forces industrial designers to make their production methods more efficient and cost effective.

    Herbert Read proclaimed the first and the most important principle of industrial design: A factory should conform to the personality of an artist but not vice versa.

    Robert Lepper helped establish one of the country’s first industrial design degree programs at Carnegie Institute of Technology.

    The idolization of technology, progress and modernity was a represented and explored through design techniques such as Streamlining (styling a form to express speed and movement).

    Populuxe (combination of popular and luxury) was coined by Thomas Hine to express the consumer culture and aesthetic popular during this period in the United States.

    A product design section was established at Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., said to be the first in-house design organization in Japan. This was created by Konosuke Matsushita on his return to Japan following a visit to the United States.

    When the American Society of Industrial Design (ASID merged with the Industrial Designers Institute and the Industrial Design Education Association to form the IDSA.   

    Post-modernist movement embraced the influence of color and experience. Robert Venturi is known for coining the term “Less is a bore”, a post-modernist response to Mies van der Rohe’s “Less is more”.

    Advances in computing and the rise of the Internet helps the Industrial Design profession push forward.

    The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) created the Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI). Shortly after, the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) emerged as a recognized sub-discipline of computer science.

    The Professional Practice Committee presented a updated definition of industrial design: "Industrial Design is a strategic problem-solving process that drives innovation, builds business success and leads to a better quality of life through innovative products, systems, services and experiences." 

    Lindsay Schultz
    Researcher at CHOi Design Inc.