(Originally published on CDG Interactive/Innate blog)
After a few months’ hiatus, the CDG Book Club is back. In this installment, UI Developer Ivan Wilson discusses Search Patterns: Design for Discovery by Peter Morville and Jeffery Callender.
I first heard about the book Search Patterns during the IxDA Interaction 10 conference in Savannah, Georgia when I attended Peter Moreville’s lecture about The Future of Search. This brief book (less than 200 pages) interested me because it focuses less on technology and more on design. It’s not about Google or Yahoo, but on interaction designers and information architecture.
That said, the main premise of the book can be summed up in the following statement:
The problem of search is designing interfaces and processes that allow people to find things.
Let us step back a moment. Is searching and finding two of the same things? Well, no. And that is a bit of a revelation to anyone, especially me who builds the front-end code for search pages.
The book addresses two main points:
1. Search is a not passive activity.
What do we do when we go to a search page? Input term(s), click button, get results—right? But what happens when the results don’t lead to the information the user is looking for?
The user isn’t some blank slate. Even if you’re just surfing around, you’re affected by a variety of filters–such recommendations from friends, past memories, etc. As users, we’re always judging whether a search result is right for us or just another dead end. If a user isn’t finding what he’s looking for, the problem isn’t necessarily an inadequate use of the search; it may be a user interface problem. In other words, the interface may not be adequate for what/how the user wants to find.
2. Information need to be findable, not just searchable.
Here, the authors approach the problem from the other end: those who create the content that is being searched. Especially on the web, content does not lend itself to being able to be found in an instant. It’s up to content producers and coders to make content searchable by using tools such as keywords or tags or database indexing. If you’re a business, you need to understand how to categorize products in a way that makes it as easy as possible for the user to find them via search (for example, adding information like ISBN numbers for books).
Throughout the book, the authors detail different interfaces currently being used (faceted navigation, widgets, etc) in search. They also give glimpses into the future, with examples of search being tied in with social media like Twitter or Facebook. Also, the authors detail some of the methods the users take in searching for items whether in narrow or expanded focus.
But in the end, designing for search engines will be about more than speed and accuracy; it will be more about having the process of finding easier. And that is what this book is about.