path image explaining the difference between user interaction and user experience

Don’t confuse UX with something else

I keep seeing this picture over and over again on Facebook and Linkedin and it’s not quite accurate. What you see in it is actually User Interaction (UI) which, as a notion, contains UX (User Experience) at a more refined level. The passers choose to interact this way with the surroundings because is more efficient to them (it’s a shortcut), not a more pleasant experience than walking on a pavement (you end up with dusty shoes and stumbling on dirt bumps). So they choose to trade efficiency over experience.

user interaction vs user experience

When we talk about UX (User Experience) we refer to the quality of that experience.

What you see in the picture is generically called a cow path. Doesn’t matter what architects and designers were thinking they’re building because users will tend to have a very pragmatic approach to it, even repurpose it.

Let’s take Medium for instance: great platform, heavy articles, smart thoughts etc. It might happen that in a few years only great thinkers to stay active and the rest of us to remain avid readers. In case you want to be hired as a journalist perhaps the most valuable thing in your CV would be your very existence on Medium. Your reputation as a journalist will begin here. Everyone will take you seriously because you’re having followers here. Followers of great quality, intelligent and profound. We call that a natural repurpose that was never intended, a natural pivot out of a cow path.

This is why, usually when a client comes to me asking for a logo I advise him to run the business without one for at least a year. Dust will settle, habits will form, an organisational personality will hopefully emerge. At the end of that year you can hardly say that you have some sort of a team culture. It is ok to have a business without a logo at first because that shape really doesn’t matter. At all. Wait for the world to reshape your intentions. This doesn’t mean the world has defeated you but rather you adapted to it.

So, coming back to this picture: I don’t like to assume that those landscape architects didn’t know about “cow path” concept. And it’s not like they didn’t had the time to let people alone draw the natural paths. A week or two is enough to see all the walking patterns. Most likely was a budget decision. It is cheaper to build one straight path than to add some ramification to it. But so what? People didn’t care about your design and tight budget. They mind their own lives and if you’re not thoughtful enough as a designer, really doesn’t matter how pixel perfect you are. Function first, beauty second.

Adrian Costea