Desire Paths [55-minute Lesson] [Draft]


Written by Kenny





I. Warm-up

A. Conversation

1. Look at the pictures above. Describe what happened to cause the paths to form in the way they formed?

2. Imagine there is a big field of grass with a sidewalk running around the edges. If you want to get to the other side of the field, will you walk all the way around the edge or will you take a shortcut across the middle of the grass?

3. Imagine the same field with one difference: now there is already a path across the middle, formed by many other people taking that shortcut. Are you now more likely to take the shortcut?

4. Have you ever abandoned a product or service because it was not easy to use? Did you replace that product or service with one that was more convenient or more efficient?


B. Vocabulary

Directions: Match the words and expressions with their definitions.


1. self-reinforcing (adj.)

2. path of least resistance (n. phr.)

3. friction (n.)

4. litter (v.)

5. obligatory (adj.)

6. meander (v.)

7. flux (n.) 



a. the easiest route to travel

b. the act of rubbing one thing against another

c. self-strengthening

d. to follow a winding course with many curves

e. a series of changes; continuous change

f. to cover a surface with many things in a disorganized way

g. required by a rule or a law


Directions: Using the vocabulary words or expressions listed above, fill in the blanks in the sentences below.

1. Habits are difficult to break because they are _____________________.

2. Electricity travels the ______________________.

3. ______________________ causes heat.

4. When I am busy with a complicated project, many papers __________________ my desk.

5. In some countries, men must complete ______________________ military service.

6. Language is in a state constant ________________________.


II. Listening

Directions: Before watching and listening to the video, preview the comprehension questions. After watching and listening, review the sentences that contain the vocabulary words. Then explain the meanings of the sentences.

A. Click here to watch the video

B. Comprehension Questions

1. What are "desire paths," and what do they tell us?

2. When Brasilia (the capital city of Brazil) was designed, what mistake did the designers make? How does the aerial view show the poor design?

3. Did the designers of the University of California campus make the same mistakes? What approach did they take? Was it a good approach? Why or why not?

4. How did one Boston entrepreneur decide about locations and menus for his new restaurants?

5. How are "desire paths" important in business? What examples do you see in your own business experience?



III. Discussion

A. Vocabulary in Context

Directions: Read the following sentences from the transcript of the video. Explain what they mean.

1. People clearly don't want to walk all the way around the edge. Instead, they want to take the shortcut, and that shortcut is self-reinforcing.


2. Now this shortcut is called a desire path, and it's often the path of least resistance.


3. Sometimes you have to just focus on designing for a real need at low-friction.


4. If you zoom in, in the very center of Brasilia ... you see it's littered with desire paths.


5. I was reminded flying here when I was in Heathrow. Many of us get frustrated when we're confronted with the obligatory walk through duty-free.


6. It was amazing to me how many people refused to take the long, meandering path to the left and just cut through to the right, cut through the desire path.


7. The world's in flux, and we have to respond to those changes. In part because of technology, the world is incredibly flux at the moment. It's changing constantly. Those desire paths are going to spring up faster than ever. Our job is to pick the appropriate ones and pave over them. 


B. Conversation

1. How does the speaker define "desire paths," and why might they be important to entrepreneurs?

2. What mistakes did the designers of Brasilia make?

3. How did the University of California improve on the design process?

4. How did one Boston entrepreneur decide where to locate his restaurant and what food to put on the menu?

5. Do you see any desire paths in the world around you? What opportunites, if any, do those desire paths reveal?


IV. Vocabulary Review

Directions: Now (or for homework), create sentences of your own using the vocabulary listed.

1. self-reinforcing (adj.)

2. the path of least resistance (n. phr.)

3. friction (n.)

4. litter (v.)

5. obligatory (adj.)

6. meander (v.)

7. flux (n.)



Photo credits:











Grammar Point: