SpoolCast: Mark Burrell’s Search Patterns Revisted

Brian Christiansen

September 24th, 2010

Duration: 33m | 17 MB
Recorded: January, 2010
Brian Christiansen, UIE Podcast Producer
Sean Carmichael, audio editor
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Few people have thought about search, and all that it encompasses, like Mark Burrell. Mark’s the Worldwide Lead for User Experience at Endeca, the company that builds search applications for many of the sites you use every day. These guys know search, and Mark is tasked with making the search experience humane.

With his vast experience with search applications, he oversees the Endeca User Interface Design Pattern Library, which attempts to catalog many of the most successful interface patterns for search. The goal is to make user and designer’s lives easier—and their searches more effective.

Which is exactly why we asked him to join Peter Morville for a UIE Virtual Seminar on Search and Discovery Patterns, back in January of this year. Today we’re revisiting the topic by sharing the follow up podcast Jared Spool recorded with Mark. Jared and Mark discuss a few bonus questions from the seminar. Below are a few highlights from the podcast.

Much of the challenge in search lies in sorting through results in a meaningful way. There are a number of interface components that sites use to accomplish this, and one is the range slider. You may have seen them on sites like Kayak.com. But are these intuitive for the users? Mark says they can be, but the devil is in the details. Designing the search experience is complex and there aren’t simple answers. Used correctly, range sliders can be useful.

“Determine what information is critical for the people you’re designing for and make that salient.”
-Mark Burrell

One size doesn’t fit all. One question asked, should you use different patterns for different audiences? There is not just one right answer to this question, but you need to know your audience and their scenarios, Mark says. Different interfaces or patterns for different types of searchers can be an effective decision.

One example of this is with Intranets. Mark says there’s a surprising amount of overlap between design for Intranets and public-facing sites. But there are advantages to knowing your audience intimately, as with an Intranet. You can tune your search and interface for specific groups within your company. A great example is in searching for human resources information. An average employee searching for “insurance forms” might expect to get a list of the relevant forms for her to fill out.

But if this search comes from an HR employee, her scenario is almost certainly different. She might rather see recently updated forms or policy documents that pertain to the forms, instead of the forms themselves. Leveraging our existing knowledge of who is searching can lead to powerful modifications.

There is much more in the podcast, including a discussion of combining searching and browsing, the complexities of designing components that denote AND vs. OR searches, and the good and the bad with “type ahead” assisted search. Tune in, and then let us hear your questions and thoughts in the comments below.

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