Tag Archives: search browse discover ux design

Search and Browse

Today I watched a really great presentation by Peter Morville and Mark Burrell at UIE discussing search patterns. I have to admit that the only reason why I attended is because Peter was speaking and I always love what he has to say, because I very rarely have to actually design search interfaces.

After the presentation I actually started asking myself why the hell is it that I so rarely have to design for search behaviors. The reality is that oftentimes I’m designing for existing services where search is an existing capability and iterating it is never in scope.

One of the problems with that, which became more apparent to me after the presentation, is that treating search as a separate behavior from browse is really misguided. I thought about this problem before but could not quite articulate it very well until today.

Historically I had been taught and understood search and browse as distinct elements – which they are visually and from a UI elements standpoint – but from a behavioral perspective, they really are not, rather, they are part of a continuum. A spectrum of discovery behaviors if you will.

Browse-search spectrum

If we think, for example, about how faceted classification emerges in search interfaces and in browsing interfaces it becomes really clear how intertwined they are.

One of my questions to Peter during the presentation (which unfortunately did not get addressed but hopefully will be part of the UIE follow-up podcast) was if he had identified patterns of use of faceted search and if there were any emergent patterns that could help answer if faceted search is more appropriate for a particular kind of content or context — and when it might not be appropriate.

Faceted browse/search is a hot topic at work and I feel like it’s been historically a random requirement that ends up on a project brief because of process inertia. Someone saw it somewhere and thought it was cool so decided that it should be applied to the kind of content we are surfacing for our audience.

I have no good evidence to substantiate my hypothesis at this point (unless lack of examples in the wild is enough), but I suspect that for our content – namely video content, generally in the entertainment realm, frequently movies, series and other TV programs – having faceted search as a primary tool for discovery is really inappropriate.

I have definitely seen and appreciated the application in e-commerce and feel like there is a prevalent pattern there for its use. But on the content I design for, I just don’t know. If I am to rely on what I know from user behavior learned observing people try and get to the video content they want (across different platforms in a number of distinct scenarios of use) the attributes they need to make decisions are frequently few. The variation in behavior is little in terms of user motivation, and greater in content type (i.e.: people look for movies differently from how they look for series).

How can I make a compelling argument that this particular pattern is not the right fit when I am not sure what is? I’ve seen it fail in usability tests but that only makes people try to fix it and improve it, not to try a completely alternate solution that might be appropriate. Any ideas out there?

Also, I’m not on a crusade against faceted search, I am just looking for ways to 1) articulate that there might be a problem picking this particular pattern 2) explore other ways to do it (both in the context of use and content I described). Any ideas are welcome.

Regardless, I think it will help me in the future to frame the scope of what I need to design for when dealing with content discovery behaviors by thinking about them in the browse-search spectrum. At least I expect that to give me a better argument to combat feature requirements void of context.