A desire path is a path created by usage, not a pre-determined path. Normally these paths are created by people taking shortcuts across fields to get from Point A to Point B more quickly than the pre-determined paths (like sidewalks) that have been put in place.
– Gaston Bachelard, from his book “The Poetics of Space,” (from Wikipedia)
It’s not as simple as brands and consumers having conversations with each other. It’s the conversations between consumers – people – about your brand… their experiences… their lives. Conversations are just the beginning of the story. The continuation is providing “desire paths” for people to interact in the ways they want to interact, where they want to interact. People are no longer sticking to the set paths that digital agencies create and hope they interact within. We need to understand and accommodate our visitor’s desire paths, support their goals through branded digital experiences, and allow them to go elsewhere online with the information to share, obtain peer feedback, and tell their own stories. Let people create cultural currency through their own stories with others, wherever they feel is appropriate.
We’re not going to see company websites disappear. In order for there to be a desire path, there must be at least two points. What we can do, as interactive designers, is help shape and guide these desire paths. Stop building sidewalks that people will find a short cut around, grow tired of, or avoid entirely. Understand why people are taking desire paths. Give people the ability to create their own paths. Enable them and support them. Be where they are, not where you hope they’ll go. Build engagement, not simply websites.
(Photo above from the Sweet Juniper blog.)