Search Interface design


A (brief) history

Interface: a definition


+ modes of information seeking

+ cognitive load


+ usability testing


+ faceted searching

+ displaying results

Challenges for libraries

+ public libraries

+ academic libraries

The future/Conclusion


The display of search results is equally as important as the appearance of the search box. In heheat mapr web-published book, Search user interfaces, Marti Hearst describes how a study using eye tracking software revealed the habits of users reading search results: users looked to the top left corner of the screen first and then their eyes moved across and don the screen. This is an important consideration when considering where on the page to place a corporate logo or any other pertinent information.

It is also important to keep Nielsen's fourth heuristic in mind: consistency and standards. Once you have selected a method of displaying results, you must use that method consistently so your users will know how to interpret thee results.

The traditional method of displaying search results is a page-long list of results with text explanations or samples of the pages from which the results come. This method was developed in the days command line interfaces and text only computers. With the graphical displays we now have at our disposal, it is strange that the design of search results has stagnated while operating systems have docks, widgets, and other GUI features.

Visual DisplayEdward Tufte, author of The visual display of quantitative information, makes the argument that people can process much more information, far more quickly in a visual format than by reading text. Given that efficiency is one of the areas of usability, displaying information graphically, where applicable, makes sense if it helps searchers sort through or interpret results more efficiently.

Over the last few years, there have been some experiments on the web with alternate methods of displaying results. One such display is that of LivePlasma, a discovery engine, which displays search results for music in a map, using size, colour, proximity, and lines to show the relationships between the results. Rankspiral displays information from meta-search engines. Different colours representing the search engine from which the information was retrieved and proximity to the centre equals relevance. This method of displaying results has the advantage olive plasmaf displaying all of the results of a query on a single page therefore, users are not required to click to the second or third page of results (which they don't do anyways).

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Search Interface: In Your Face
By Lindsay Tripp and Neil MacDonald
LIBR 557: Information Retrieval Concepts and Practice
University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC
December 4th, 2009