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Desire Paths & Community Design
Sometimes the best design comes from desire
Have you ever walked downtown where there is a grass patch, and it looks like humans have created a path where they'd rather walk?
There is a name for this in urban planning. It's called a desire path. The most well-known story about desire paths is how Disney used them when he opened his park. According to the story, no paved or fenced areas existed upon the opening of Disneyland. Walt Disney allowed guests to wander freely, and as a result, desire paths emerged. Only then did he pave these trails.
So what does this have to do with community building and design? It's a reminder, especially when you launch a community, to stay flexible and observe the community on the desired paths they show you.
How does that look in practice? Here are just some simple ways to use desire paths in your online community design:
Consider not launching with categories - let people show you what they want to talk about and create the categories from a cluster of topics. If you must have categories, keep it to large 3-5 buckets, you can work from.
Use tools like HotJar, Microsoft Clarity or your Google Analytics to view visitor paths, especially the path they take when there are no restrictions. What do people seek out, and what do they do in their journey? How do they get there? Consider pages that get surfaced and where you can use those to create links or tabs for people to jump right into the action.
Keep track of any pain points that surface, such as areas or content people search for or can't find. With tools your analytics tools, you can also see when they use back buttons or exit a page quickly that doesn't provide what they need. The early days will give you a good sample of things you must address before larger audiences come.
Create an FAQ from true, frequently asked questions, not things you assume they want to know. Too many times, FAQs feel like artificial creations. You can rely on your support or ticketing teams for actual frequent questions to address those in the community to direct the journey.
If there is only one thing to take away from this, consider adding a process to respond to desire paths. Doing so will reduce friction and allow your community to do their best work.
Happy community building ✌️
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