In the age of touch devices, some days it seems like a day will come when we will not have to use a keyboard to interact with computers. A significant part of our relationship with technology passes through interfaces that were not common a decade ago: touch screens, accelerometers, cameras and microphones.
Keyboards, however, are still the most efficient way to interact with a computer, and not only for typing email. From code editors like Emacs to advanced image manipulation tools like Photoshop, it is no wonder that most advanced programs can be controlled more efficiently by means of keyboard shortcuts.
The learning curve for shortcuts is generally quite steep: while some of them are standard across programs and can be easily guessed, most shortcuts are complex abstract key combinations (as ⌘-Control-Shift-3 on Mac, that takes a screenshot to the clipboard) and therefore not easy to remember.
Some applications, however, are introducing smarter ways to control our computers using a keyboard.
Desire paths are a common pattern in landscape design: born as simple footpaths when someone takes a more direct, shorter way to their destination, they often evolve to proper paths and roads after a while.
While architects and garden planners often regard those paths as unesthetic and try to prevent them by using fences and the well known _keep off the grass_ signs, desire paths tell a lot about the needs of people traversing a space. Some urban planners even use those paths to guide them when revising the original design by adding new roads or altering the original project.
Desire paths are important because they give insights about points where the original design is lacking from a functional point of view. Sure, they may not be as pleasant to the eye as a perfect, regular lawn, but they often show a more effective way to solve a problem: getting from one point in physical space to another.
I am posting about landscape design here because the same phenomenon can occur when observing the way users interact with software products. Users often compensate for missing features by and taking shortcuts and by adopting workarounds which, eventually, leave a persistent mark on the system they are using.