The Line of Desire

Why do people walk through your garden beds?

As planners, designers and gardeners we are always surprised when the user doesn’t conform to our expectations. One of the basic concepts we start with as Landscape Architecture students is The Line of Desire.

Out to the campus courtyards we were sent to observe peoples movement through the space. What routes did they take when rushing to class or sauntering back to the dorms? Well if you aren’t designing a public space it’s a little harder to read the paths of travel.

Here are a few tips that will help you identify and use the line of desire in your own space.


First identify destination points, then connect the dots. This doesn’t mean you have to put in a landing strip of a path directly from your front door to the mailbox. It does mean you can create an ease way to walk out to gather the mail.

If for example your back deck steps down in the yard and you have a pool. The connection between those two points is a path, stepping stones or a patio. Take a moment to connect the dots in your own space, with paths that match your natural movement.

Pointless Paths

Make sure there’s a purpose to the path you’re creating. This could be the destination, views along the way or exercise gained from the path itself. Make sure to create points along the journey as well as a clear destination.

We will talk a little bit more about another concept Hide and Reveal in the next blog. There is a place for paths that disappear around corners and into the woods. Not everything needs to be a straight line but it should be user friendly.


The final piece to create great paths is a hierarchy of sizes and materials. That path to the mailbox could be just mulch or stepping stones. Whereas the path from the road to your front door can be pavers, concrete or flagstone.

Size is also a factor, if it’s a small trail it can be only a couple feet wide. If it’s a side path keep it around two and half to three feet wide. When it’s a main path four feet and up is preferable. Using the size to indicate the most traveled path helps people navigate through your property.

Desire and Design

Any landscape will be changed by our human interactions with it. Design and the discipline of Landscape Architecture work to capture our innate behaviors and plan ahead for them. Hopefully these tips can help you plan for those pioneering path makers and save your beautiful plants in the process.

Where in the landscape have you noticed lines of desire? Add your comments below!

Want to know more? Here are some great articles on the line of desire.

Desire paths: the illicit trails that defy the urban planners

Tracing (and Erasing) New York’s Lines of Desire

Least Resistance: How Desire Paths Can Lead to Better Design

Laura BassettComment