I finished a 15-page essay today about user-oriented design. I propose that historically, there are two approaches to involving the end user in the design process, either by using techniques that engage them in dialogue early in the process, or being flexible enough to allow the users to design it themselves as they use it.

Here’s the intro:

A “desire path” is a trail worn into the ground by being traversed repeatedly by its users. They appear in public spaces when the most direct path between two points has not been formally provided or accounted for. The more people that use them, the wider they become. They take shape democratically; they are designed through the very act of using them. Often, they are formalized through signage or paving, made into permanent fixtures created by the community. Desire paths the most direct example of what is generally known as “user-oriented design, design informed by its end users. Over the years, there have been many approaches to the question of how to activate the end user in the design process. These solutions generally prioritize one of two things: specificity or flexibility. That is, either opening up a dialogue with users to tailor a design specifically for their needs or developing a product that is flexible enough to be modified by the users themselves. The end result of each is a design suited to the needs of the people using it, but the means of accomplishing it is very different. In defining the scope of user-oriented design, it is important to examine its alternatives.