October 2010 Archives

Advanced Search

In response to Lou (and Chris), I'm posting this Search Patterns excerpt:

A relative concept, advanced search includes whatever simple search doesn't. It's a pattern that many of us love to hate. Often, advanced search is a clumsy add-on that's rarely used, and it lets engineers and designers take the easy way out. Valuable features that are difficult to integrate into the main interface can be relocated to the ghetto and forgotten.

Plus, there's confusion about its purpose. Is it a user-friendly query builder for novices or a power tool for experts? Many interfaces try (and fail) to be both. For instance, isn't it fair to assume that users who understand what "exact phrase" means also know to use quotation marks to specify such a search? The main problem with Boolean isn't the syntax, it's the logic. And even the plain language shown in Figure 4-28 is unlikely to help the few novices who brave the intimidating realm of advanced search.

Advanced Search

This pattern also suffers from an ignorance of context. Searches are situated. They take place in a space. Having navigated through music to the folk genre, users may want to search without leaving. Scoped search is a pattern that meets this need. There's a risk that users won't see the scope, but overrides in the case of few or no results can help. In most cases, users benefit, because scoped search caters to context. In contrast, advanced search often teleports us to a distant, unfamiliar locale.

It's disruptive to flow.

Interestingly, Exalead, shown in Figure 4-29, combines help and advanced search without asking users to leave. A click on Advanced Search launches an interactive menu below the box. It's unconventional and a little clumsy, but definitely worth a look.

Despite these difficulties, advanced search isn't only an antipattern. It does help some users learn about the available metadata fields and vocabularies, and offers a path toward greater precision through field-specific searching. Plus, even when we reject the advanced/basic dichotomy and build robust functionality into the main interface, and strive to support contextual queries with scoped search, it's inevitable that some features that are useful for some tasks and for some people will be left out.

In fact, we should worry if they're not. Advanced search offers a safe harbor for edge cases and a clear path to progressive disclosure. For instance, Flickr includes features in advanced search, like limit by license, that simply don't belong on the main stage.

Of equal import, advanced search in concept, if not by name, gets us to think outside the box. What's the basic interface missing? How else might users wish to search? These are the questions that lead to innovations like Midomi's search by singing, GazoPa's discover by drawing, and Etsy's fabulously fun feature, explore by color.

Etsy's Advanced Search

In conclusion, advanced search is a pattern on the edge. In practice, it's often abused and rarely used. It can be rendered unnecessary by the narrowing and scoping of faceted navigation and personalization. Yet, like federated search, it invites us to go further in our search for ideas, and serves as a forgiving playground for experiments and exploration.

Strange Connections

A special edition of Radio Johnny in which Clifton B interviews presenters from the fifth annual IDEA 2010 conference in Philadelphia.

| permalink |

Up The Stairs

A couple of years ago, I began to notice big red boxes appearing inside and outside grocery stores in Ann Arbor. I ignored them for a while, which wasn't easy because they are big and red, but eventually I gave Redbox a try. My first experience wasn't great. Using a kiosk interface to browse the DVD selection while strangers peered over my shoulder was unnerving.

Still, I endured the kiosk search a few more times before stumbling upon the website and realizing I could search and pay online, then pick up my movie at the kiosk with a swipe of my credit card. This multi-channel epiphany led to a much better experience, and I'm now a Redbox fan.

But how many folks never get past the kiosk? How do we make it easier for people to learn about multi-channel possibilities? The idea of smoothing the steps into a gentle slope sounds good, but I'm not sure it's entirely practical.

Up Stairs

#ubicompsketchbook on Twitter and Flickr

Perhaps we need ways of catapulting users to the next level. Or, even better, maybe we should copy foursquare and turn it into a game. I can imagine Redbox offering free rentals to users who reach the next level. Steps might include your first web/kiosk or mobile/kiosk combo or the first time you return a DVD in a different city than the one in which you rented it. What do you think? How would you get users up the stairs?

| permalink |comments (3)|

Ubicomp Sketchbook

After hanging out with Dave Gray in Savannah in February, I was inspired to improve my visual thinking and sketching skills, so I bought Sketchbook Pro and a Bamboo Tablet, dug out an old Moleskine I'd never used, and signed up for a drawing class at the Ann Arbor Art Center.

Six months later, I'd made a bit of progress with the notebook but none with the tablet. And the drawing class? I quit after a few weeks. Too stressful!

That's why our Ubicomp Sketchbook Collaboration makes sense. Because it's Dave's fault. And now, he's making me use the tools he inspired me to buy.

Ubicomp Sketchbook

Seriously, I'm really looking forward to sketching the future. We'll be building on ideas from Ambient Findability, Smart Things, and Everyware. And, we'll be using strange words and phrases like intertwingularity, spime, information shadows, synthetic synesthesia, and Ubiquitous Service Design.

We'll use words and pictures, and we'll even try a bit of design fiction. We also hope you'll join us by sharing your sketches and ideas. To follow along, just keep an eye out for the #ubicompsketchbook hashtag (and Flickr tag).

| permalink |

Smart Things

I'm excited to see that Mike Kuniavsky's Smart Things is (finally) available. It's a great book that should provoke some interesting conversations about the near future of design, information architecture, and user experience.

Smart Things

Here's my back of the book blurb:

Smart Things is a rare artifact from the future that packs immediate practical value. I predict its coverage of multi-scale design will change user experience practice forever. It is the most useful book about the future of design I've read and has changed the way I work. Mike Kuniavsky doesn't just write about the future, he lives there... and now so can you.

Buy it. Read it. And then, in the near future, let's talk!

Strange Connections

Dave Gray is uncovering some great #designfiction resources including Representations of the Future with Graphs and A Survey of Human-Computer Interaction Design in Science Fiction Movies.

| permalink |

User Experience People 2.0

If you liked the first set of UX Stencils, you'll love what Jeffery Callender has done with Version 2.0 (available now on Graffletopia) which includes abstract figures, stylized people, guys, gals, arrows, and caricatures.

User Experience People 2.0

Yes. In case you hadn't noticed, we've got a few famous folks in the collection. If you think you can name them all correctly, send me an email (by 5 pm EDT Oct 6) with your guesses, and we'll enter you in a raffle to win one of three copies of Search Patterns. Thanks for playing!

Update #1: UX People for Axure (Widget Library)

Update #2: Winners Announced!

Update #3: More Formats (Thanks Livia)

Strange Connections

My Ubiquitous Information Architecture slides from IDEA 2010.

| permalink |comments (4)|