I have no idea how many times I have been tagged in this image (or similar) with my friends saying “Amirite?!?!”.
The thing is, this is actually an explanation for exactly what bad UX is. The dirt path is just the observed users behavior, an un-anticipated action. Something they didn’t see during the research phase. Good UX would have hopefully seen this coming and accounted for it early.
But now they are getting feedback and you could view the dirt path as a kind of result/pattern in their metrics and could be used to improve the experience in the future.
Lastly, the image suggests that design is actually just about aesthetics, and this is the most annoying point of all. You have no idea how much I have to fight for the fact that I’m not just here to ‘make things look pretty‘.
So now we have some real user feedback, let’s see if we can fix it for v2.
What we can tell easily is that the brick path is nicely laid out in straight lines and the dirty path is the users path of least resistance to their goal.
The thing is, it only considers the aesthetics and the users end goal, which are both important things, but what about the business side, the stake holders?
What if there are regulations about keeping a certain amount of grass area available and we can’t just go knocking down trees. Cutting the corner could drop under that figure, as well as wipe out the tree on the corner.
Note: while the council wants a certain amount of grass, simply by not designing for this behavior, that section of grass has now died anyway.
What if your main investor is a bricking company and they have been promised a certain amount of return on their investment during construction. By making the path go further to the edges, they sell more bricks to the project.
It’s a UX designers job to take in all these factors and come up with possible solutions.
Let’s come up with some solutions and see what sticks.
“Re-route the path”
We could cut the corner, pave over the grass and make the users happy. But then the Parks Division is disappointed and the design doesn’t really flow anymore.
Seems like a bad option.
“Cut the corner.”
What if we widen the path. The investor is happy. The user is into it. But the Parks Division is really not happy now and looking to take action.
Mmmm still not great.
Ok, so we could put up a little fence and sign that says keep off the grass? But then your users will probably just go to another park where they are allowed to sit on the grass and enjoy their lunch.
Ok, so what about this. We hire a famous landscaping specialist to build us an environmentally sustainable boardwalk through the area to keep people off the grass, look great and even perhaps become a feature of the park attracting new visitors. The user is happy. The parks are stoked with the new visitors and the investors are getting what they were originally promised.
Sounds pretty good huh! Oh did I mention is was going to cost more than a small island off the coast of Cuba? Better start saving those pennies!
Let’s stop all this guessing
The real problem is, these are all assumptions. We are just looking at a photo and guessing. We are not understanding the problem on a deep enough level.
What we really should be doing is heading down to that park, standing on the corner and asking people where they are going and why are they in such a rush.
These kind of insights will lead to better judgements when making assumptions. What if 90% of the people cutting through are actually on a 10 minute break from work and have to rush to the coffee shop quickly. Perhaps in this case, we would be better to just build a coffee cart and stick it in the corner on the original plan.
My final solution
We have just stopped 90% of the people cutting through, made it quicker for the workers to get their coffee and at a much lower cost for the project, just by getting out of the building and asking a few real people.
We could test this theory with a simple MVP by hiring a local coffee cart for the day and monitoring it’s popularity and how many less people cut through compared to the day before.
Doesn’t work? Not an expensive test and hardly any time wasted. See good initial results? Start refining. Ask people about their favorite coffee and cakes. Keep running your solution through the feedback loop and identify ways to make it better and better.
I guess my real question is, does anyone have a contact at ‘The Internet’ that I can email about getting the photo removed? I hear people do that all the time these days.
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