Marti Hearst professor at U.C. Berkeley School of Information has written a large amount of research and instruction on the dealings of our digital world. In a book published by Cambridge University Press, he explains the details and reasoning of the standard interfaces for search engines. In chapter 1, he explains some of the components and concepts to utilize when designing and/or using a search interface.
He explains that above all else, a search interface needs to maintain simplicity. The more complex the display the easier it will be for the user to get distracted. He notes that, “When a person reads text, they are focused on that task; it is not possible to read and to think about something else at the same time. Thus, the fewer distractions while reading, the more usable the interface.” [i]
When maintaining simplicity, the interface allows the user to gain better focus and continually think about the bigger question they were looking to answer. This means, that when designers try to incorporate seemingly intuitive features, they are assuredly going to mystify and confuse some portion of the user base.
I personally think about the early differences between Yahoo and Google, and it is clear that a lot of Google’s success is due to its simplicity and ease of design. A historical shift from using search interfaces to navigate small pockets of information to using them to access the world wide web has allowed for most Americans to gain access to a search interface with ease. If there hadn’t been a shift from command-line interface to bitmapping, I believe that not so many Americans would be well versed in search inquiries.
That being said, the shift did happen, which made usability a key factor in the success of design. Hearti describes the components of usability as; Learnability, Efficiency, Memorability, Errors, and Satisfaction.[ii] Each part of usability will build not only a deeper understanding of the usefulness of the interface, but also allows for improvement and occasionally complete reconfiguration. Testing these facets of usability are essential to creating an environment that promotes good search practices and allows for the user to get the most information available without being too distracted from the original question.
Emily Adiseshiah from Usability Geek states “that you would want to define the following: Scope, Purpose, Schedule and Location, Sessions, equipment, Participants, Scenarios, and Metrics.”[iii] Each of these will help guide your testing and give you the best results.
In order for an interface to be not only usable, but useful, it needs to be able to fulfill a series of functions that can allow the search to either be narrowed or broadened. Features like sorting via criteria and displaying related search terms may help the user gather more information and find more useful sources.
Now let us say they navigate your search functions, WHAT NOW?!?!? Well what happens when you type and search a term in Google; it lists a number of resources in an order based on relatable topics. The search queries have shift from a place where people are looking for a single word topic, to more advanced ideas and subjects. This means that results no longer are blocked by whether or not the item contains the search or not, but rather degrees of variance and a level of ranking based on relevance. Have you ever used the popularity button in a YouTube search? We know we all want to be popular, but this didn’t come into the picture until the 2000’s. Just like the kid sitting at home doing Fortnite dances and hacking his parents computer (badoom tssssss).
All things stated, the biggest and most important thing you can walk away from this reading knowing is to not overwhelm the user. They are simple minded folk that need to be taken by the hand into the web and guided along the path that leads to total internet wisdom. They need to have time to build meme(ories) and eventually they will be searching all sorts of information on their own. Aesthetics and function all play together to make everyone feel like they can find more without the effort, and all cynicism aside, I and my simple minded friends enjoy when we can use a search engine and play games in the title. That Google Ghost game for Halloween was straight fire!
[i] “Search User Interfaces.” Models of the Information Seeking Process (Ch 3) | Search User Interfaces | Marti Hearst | Cambridge University Press 2009. Accessed November 10, 2018. http://searchuserinterfaces.com/book/sui_ch1_design.html.
[ii] “Search User Interfaces.” Models of the Information Seeking Process (Ch 3) | Search User Interfaces | Marti Hearst | Cambridge University Press 2009. Accessed November 10, 2018. http://searchuserinterfaces.com/book/sui_ch1_design.html.
[iii] Adiseshiah, Emily Grace, and Emily Grace AdiseshiahEmily Grace Adiseshiah. “How To Develop Goals In A Usability Test.” Usability Geek. December 11, 2017. Accessed November 10, 2018. https://usabilitygeek.com/how-to-develop-goals-usability-test/.