July 07, 2006

User Interface & Search Screen Design, from JASIST

Finally! I'm recovered enough from teaching to start reading the journals that have piled up patiently awaiting my attention.

The Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology recently had a special section entitled "Perspectives on Search User Interfaces: Best Practices and Future Visions". There are some fascinating and short (i.e., easily readable) articles on various aspects of screen design and the user interface.

I'm working on a project to redesign the public interface of a (confusing) database, and I found several nuggets very useful:

Regarding the ability to match a user's search term to "what the database calls it" (as I explain it to my students), Resnick and Vaughan say, "Jefferson and Nagy ([2002]) report that the probability that both a searcher and search system will apply the same term for a given concept is only 10-20%." WOW!!! Only a 10-20% chance that the user and the database will be using the same term?!

Resnick & Vaughan continue with these best practice suggestions for the search user interface:
  • "Simple ideas such as increasing the size of the text input box to encourage users to input longer queries have shown some promise." and

  • A recent study by Bandos and Resnick ([2004]) found that users generate more effective queries and are more satisfied with interfaces that contain brief guidance on search syntax and semantics. These were provided in the form of search hints, located adjacent to the search query input box.

Peter Gremett, who does UI Design at AOL, reported on a usability evaluation of Amazon, and said: "The majority of the time users browsed first and then searched when necessary. Search was typically used when browsing areas became too busy, ambiguous, or lacked visibly relevant content."

And finally, in a nice summary of the user search experience, Barbara Wildemuth summarized Shneiderman, et al's research suggesting that "the search process consists of four phases:
  • formulation of the search strategy,
  • the action of submitting the search,
  • the review of the search results, and
  • the refinement of the search strategy (indicating that the entire process is iterative)."
(bullets mine)

It's a great, easy-to-read series of articles and if you're doing any kind of search design, I highly recommend them. You can read the abstracts for free at the Wiley / JASIST site, and you can get the articles you want via your library or Interlibrary Loan.

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