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Commercial success by looking for ‘Desire Lines’. Carl Myhill (working for but not speaking for, General Electric, Network Reliability Products and Services). What Are Desire Lines?. Desire Lines are from Urban Planning. Kiwi desire line – QE2 Swimming Pool, New Brighton.

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commercial success by looking for desire lines

Commercial success by looking for ‘Desire Lines’

Carl Myhill

(working for but not speaking for, General Electric, Network Reliability Products and Services)

desire lines are from urban planning
Desire Lines are from Urban Planning

Kiwi desire line – QE2 Swimming Pool, New Brighton

desire lines are from urban planning1
Desire Lines are from Urban Planning

QE2 Swimming Pool – new angle

desire lines are from urban planning2
Desire Lines are from Urban Planning

Cambridge, UK – New Supermarket (2003)

desire lines defined
Desire Lines ‘Defined’
  • 100 year old urban planning term
  • Show where people naturally desire to walk
  • A perfect expression of human natural purpose
  • Great design pattern for path design (Christopher Alexander)
  • A little known concept / term
  • Misused concept by modern planners
desire lines from speed bumps
Desire Lines from Speed Bumps?
  • 376 accidents involving cyclists in 2003 (50 serious, 1 fatal)
  • 88% of accidents in County involve cars (including in contact with bicycles)
  • 47% of accidents in Cambridge City involve bicycles
extending the concept around town1
Extending the Concept – around town

Combined Use Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge – 500m

extending the concept around town2
Extending the Concept – around town

Rising Bollards – 2000m

rising bollard desire lines
Rising Bollard Desire Lines?

Rising Bollards – following an “authorised vehicle”



4 October 2002

ENGLAND football hero Gordon Banks escaped injury when the car he was travelling in was impaled on rising bollards in Cambridge City Centre.

...the chauffeur says he will now sue Cambridge County Council for writing off his Mercedes.

A bollard pushed the Mercedes’ engine up through the bonnet, spilling hot oil across the road. He said, “My passengers were badly shaken, Mr Banks bumped his head.”


18 October 2002

THE rising bollards on Cambridge’s Emmanuel Road have claimed a second victim in a 24-hour period.

A woman drove into the bollards at 2.20pm yesterday and complained of chest pains after the collision.

...County Council Engineers had to repair the damage from that incident, estimated at £600-£700...

Richard Preston, the council’s project manager, said there were no plans to put up more signs.

He said: “If people can miss six or seven signs, then they could miss nine or 10. In a lot of these incidents people are failing to look at any sign.”

“We are aware of a higher frequency of incidents of late.”


18 June 2003

CAMBRIDGE’S notorious rising bollards have been given a top award by eurocrats in Brussels.

The traffic calming measures have claimed dozens of victims in the four years since they were installed.

Coun Shona Johnstone, the county council’s lead member for the environment and transport, said: “The accidents are getting less frequent. I think they deserve an award. They were controversial in the past but people have got used to them and can now see what the benefits are”

“Sue Hewitt, who manages the bollards for Cambridge County Council, admitted she was concerned at the number of accidents at the spot, but insisted drivers were to blame.” (Cambridge Evening News, 9/8/2001)

Rising Bollards – drivers to blame!

extending the concept around town3
Extending the Concept – around town

Speed Cameras – 6000m North

speed camera desire lines3
Speed Camera Desire Lines?

Susie Haywood, a spokesman, said: "The Government and the partnerships have an exceptionally long way to go to win the hearts and minds of motorists that cameras work to save lives and not just to make their wallets lighter."

1,793 locations - 384 showed an increase in casualties

(Daily Telegraph, 16/6/2004)

extending the concept a around town
Extending the Concept – a around town

A polite non-threatening reminder to reduce speed.

Speed Triggered Warning Sign – 6000m South

extending the concept back home
Extending the Concept – back home

86% - inappropriate mapping of controls to elements

Survey of 400 Cook tops for sale in the UK (2003)

extending the concept back home1
Extending the Concept – back home

4% - inappropriate mapping but elaborate visual aid

Survey of 400 Cook tops for sale in the UK (2003)

extending the concept back home2
Extending the Concept – back home

10% - good mapping

Survey of 400 Cook tops for sale in the UK (2003)

cook top desire lines
Cook Top Desire Lines?
  • 1959 study - errors associated with cook top layout up to 11% (Chapanis and Lindenbaum)
  • 1979 Ray and Ray replicated the results reporting errors up to 19%
  • 1997 UK Government report found:
    • Cooking to be the 2nd highest cause of household fire
    • Cookers left unattended – 75% of incidents
extending the concept in the air
Extending the Concept – in the air

Common mistake made despite threatened delays for incorrect form completion

Also – Florida Ballot (2000)

US Visa Waiver I-94 Form

extending desire lines to computers
Extending Desire Lines to Computers

Analogous to a muddy track across a park

- implications of human desire to interact a computer

security questions failures

Security Question

Memorable date:

Security questions & failures

Security information sought – a specific date

security desire lines
Security – desire lines?











23 july 1968

23 July 1968

23 JULY 1968

23rd July 1968

23RD JULY 1968

Actually required? Correct date and precise string

Records of Login failures

dept of concealment support
Dept. of Concealment - Support

‘Support’ tell users how to overcome problems - but not always.

1 plant grass 2 wait for paths to appear
1. Plant grass. 2. Wait for paths to appear

Apple iTunes ‘Provide Feedback’ menu option

Few companies examine such desire lines

website desire lines
Website Desire Lines

Auntie problem

BBCi - Hourly look at desire lines & adapt UI, indexes, etc.

website desire lines1
Website Desire Lines

Google Zeitgeist & recent Blogger acquisition – all desire lines!

rate this page was this review helpful
Rate this page / Was this review helpful?

Microsoft MSDN Knowledge Base – Rate this page

Making desire line explicit for user community benefit (Hill, Holland – “Digital Wear”)

on line help
On-line Help

Does it help? Desire line...?

automated teller machines atms
Loose Design Pattern...

Card in

Enter Pin

Select Cash Amount

Card Out

[forced delay]

Cash Dispensed


Card in

Enter Pin

Select Cash Amount

Cash Dispensed

Card out


Automated Teller Machines (ATMs)

User goal satisfied BEFORE card returned – desire line?

natural selection
Natural Selection
  • Desire Lines show us ‘tracks’ left by natural human interactions
  • Perhaps design evolution has parallels with natural evolution
  • Capitalist economies arguably draw parallels with nature, maybe contributing to the commercial success of one design over another via natural selection
natural selection1
Natural Selection
  • Focus on Desire Lines, and adapting designs in accordance with what we learn from them should lead to successful adaption
  • Survival of the fittest adaptions in the commercial context will perhaps become ever more evident
  • Who focuses on ‘desire lines’ now? Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Virgin, Smile – how are they doing?
natural selection2

Normanian Natural Selection !!?

Natural Selection
  • Don has provided us with a lens to focus our observations of people interacting with things
  • And terms to describe elements of those things, eg. ‘Affordance’
  • (And has inspired many of us to work in this field)
  • If our focus on people’s natural interactions with things, and our emotional responses, leads to designs evolving in the right direction, perhaps we should call this...
  • Actually, why Darwin?
  • ‘Desire Lines’ (the extended version) is a memorable concept reminding us about feedback
  • There is no rocket science here but most companies are not paying attention to this – WHY?
  • Even when desire lines speak of very serious consequences we still have a tendency to say ‘stupid user’ and not look to the design – WHY?
  • Smart, successful companies ARE paying attention to desire lines. But, typically in economics, such success factors are quickly copied – why is this not the case here?
  • Maybe it’s time for other companies to wise up and get on the right side of ‘Normanian Natural Selection’, for commercial advantage (!)