Toward a search dominant wayfinding paradigm (worth it?)

23 Sep 2009 - 6:10pm
4 years ago
16 replies
2934 reads
David Hatch
2005

Hi all,

For the past several months I have been perseverating on the concept of
creating a search-dominant wayfinding system for my web site: Adobe.com.
Why, you may ask? My thought (and I know Jared, at minimum will disagree
after having just listened to a recent podcast from him on this) is that as
web users we are moving more and more in that direction - toward search as
being a standard, hard-wired, lizard brain reflex when confronted with
moving through the vasty content spaces that are out there. The Googles have
had no small impact on our wayfinding approaches.

*Meme check: search as last resort?*
I wanted to call out and question a particular meme, namely: ³search on
sites like adobe.com is a function of last resort for those poor folks who
aren¹t finding their trigger words in the page (nav or content). I know
there is research on this so please hit me with it as necessary. But I can¹t
help thinking that you could phrase a new approch like this: ³People search
first because that¹s how they are used to finding info². What do you think?

*Why a search dominant wayfinding mode?*
Any attempt on our part (UXers) to come up with appropriate linked words or
images to use as nav in the hopes of getting users where we think they want
to go is only a guess. Sometimes our guesses at nav are great but sometimes
they totally fail. What we do know is that in every user's mind is an intent
as they move through a web site. If we let that user type their intent into
a search box then that is a step closer to (and more feasible than) creating
the mind reading UI we all know would be best for users. Of course the next
thing is: are the search results useful? But lets assume they were. Why in
that case would we not want to create a search dominant wayfinding UI for
folks.

*What would a search dominant wayfinding UI look like for a site that's not
Google?*
It would probably have a very prominent search field. One of those giant
novelty size web 2.0 style things perhaps. For a site like adobe.com it
would probably also have some standard links such as "products" and
"support", etc but those would not be the main focus. Perhaps search could
even be used to generate the local navigation on subsections. Perhaps the
search input field could be integrated into the page such that it could also
act as a page title (an example is here http://bit.ly/o81Vp, although
admittedly its a results page). An extreme example of a search only UI on
the homepage is here: http://www.sequoiacap.com/.

Question: what are you thoughts on developing a search dominant wayfinding
paradigm for a corporate site. I'd like to hear what you think.

Thanks,
David Hatch

Comments

23 Sep 2009 - 7:05pm
Stephen Holmes
2009

At first I pushed back a bit; a natural reflex action ;-)

But on remembering my last couple of days troubleshooting some issues
on my Mac I remember how good the Apple Support site search is now IF
you have enough of the right search parameters at your grasp. If you
are a newbie then you have far too many choices.

This leads me to think that if you have the right terminology at your
disposal then search-based navigation is possible. This is growing
over time in an average user as using a computer becomes more a part
of everyday life, but I still know people who think that they have to
put a URL into Google to find that site, even though they have the
full URL!

This comes back to your level of experience and grasp of the
"language" of a site. If you are hardened Adobe user, then it may
work, but new users without your Adobe "language" may struggle with
too broad a search return.

Next comes the issue to commercial policy - sorry to hit you at home
David, but Adobe has a few of these that hinder finding stuff on the
site using the existing navigational keys. Just ask any GoLive user
(best prototyping tool for Graphic designers ever!)

Search may allow people access to areas that commercially a company
want to make it a little more difficult to get to; kind of the web
equivalent that the file is in a locked draw in a sub-basement with
no lighting. Some financial institutions come to mind here.
Disclosure - I've worked for a few that have asked about this.

Just a few thoughts and biases pinned to the flagpole.

Stephen Holmes
Canberra, ACT, Australia

"When you plant a tree, never plant only one. Plant three -- one for
shade, one for fruit, and one for beauty."
-African proverb

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24 Sep 2009 - 8:46am
David Lambert
2009

Personally, I find value in the structure a well-designed product site
affords. "Search" presumes that I know what I'm looking for, while
"Browse" allows me to see and react to topics that interest me.

Very frequently, for instance, when I land on a product company's
page, I'll browse to see what other products that company offers --
at this point, I've decided that I'm interested enough to see what
else the company has to offer.

I'm a big proponent of search as a supplement to browsing, but I'm
not sure I'd go all the way to "search-dominant".

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24 Sep 2009 - 9:11am
Sara Durning
2009

I recently performed a review of this site: www.autohound.ca. My
initial reaction to the dominant homepage search options was "This
is great. Rather than bombard me with options, I have a clear path."
[Note: Since my review they've added some additional features that
push the Search further down the page.]

Ignoring the usability and design issues of the Search / Refine
functions, I ended up wondering if this type of approach was too
narrow as it doesn't address the needs of:

- new versus experienced purchasers
- first time versus return visitors
- point in the purchase process
- immediacy of need versus browsers

In the end, I recommended (in addition to doing in-depth review,
testing and revisions to Search/Refine function) maintaining a strong
focus on the Search but also adding other access points.

Sara Durning

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24 Sep 2009 - 10:45am
Mark Schraad
2006

Peter is right on here... in theory. But in application it typically does
not work.
The users with the greatest needs, within government sites in particular, do
not have domain expertise. So they often do not know what to search for.
Google has by far, the most productive and useful search algorithms on the
planet. They are currently setting the expectations way high (which is a
rear and really good thing). But if you spend any time on corporate or
government sites you will find they pale in comparison. The indexing is
bad... there is little allocation for cross referencing terminology and
misspellings.

Navigation, classifications and the browsing process can be an incredibly
powerful tool in bringing context to a users quest, especially when they do
not really know what to look for.

Recent searches, most popular searches and help within the search are
helping to bridge the gap between these to ways of finding stuff... but they
are rare applications in intrasite search.

Mark

On Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 1:46 AM, David Lambert <dlambert at appdev.info> wrote:

> Personally, I find value in the structure a well-designed product site
> affords. "Search" presumes that I know what I'm looking for, while
> "Browse" allows me to see and react to topics that interest me.
>
> Very frequently, for instance, when I land on a product company's
> page, I'll browse to see what other products that company offers --
> at this point, I've decided that I'm interested enough to see what
> else the company has to offer.
>
> I'm a big proponent of search as a supplement to browsing, but I'm
> not sure I'd go all the way to "search-dominant".
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=45983
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
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24 Sep 2009 - 12:35pm
Rick Spencer
2009

Whenever I see a debate about wayfinding I think of Donna Spencer's
excellent article for Boxes and Arrows, "Four Modes of Information
Seeking and How to Design for Them"

http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/four_modes_of_seeking_information_and_how_to_design_for_them

It's a nice way to open up the dialogue about search vs browse into
the psychology that predicates both and the design choices we have to
meet those behaviors.

%u201CThe most important issue is not whether you notice a mode of
seeking information that fits into one of these categories, but that
a range of modes exist.%u201D DSpencer

(ps. I bear no known relation to Donna. I know her as Donna Maurer.)

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24 Sep 2009 - 3:43pm
Thomas Petersen
2008

Google IS your dominant wayfinding paradigme.

Just become one with their search algorithm and keep the site as it
is.

A lot of Adobe is about not knowing what you don't know.

If I know what I want I am going to search google and then hopefully
you have the answer.

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24 Sep 2009 - 8:03pm
DampeS8N
2008

So you are the one of the ones responsible for turning adobe's
god-awful site into something at least usable?

There is a long way yet to go. I don't think a search-based paradigm
is the way to go. Let google get people to your pages by search.

I see adobe site users as falling into 3 groups. Those who want to
buy something specific already. Those who want help learning your
terribly designed, but inescapably powerful products. And those who
don't know what they need.

The first set are easy, That is what your landing page should take
care of. No one will type in adobe.com and not know at least sort of
what they need.

If your help system is well indexed and easy to navigate (which it
isn't) you'll be able to deal with group 2.

So group 3 is really who you are trying address.

To know what they need, you need to understand what subgroups they
fall into. People scouting for info on what apps to buy for the
designers at work. People who want things like PS elements or
lightroom for their photo collection but don't know they need that.
(I'm using the term 'want' loosely)

adobe.com is fast on its way to not being on my bottom 10 sites
online anymore. It is now the best designed app you offer. But
that's not saying much.

There was a time when everything was some patchwork mess of flash and
huge graphics and incomprehensible doodads. I get it, you are a
graphic design oriented software company, but at least now it looks
like you actually care about how the site is used and not just what
it looks like.

But please don't go search-centric. Bad move. A better move would be
to try and figure out how and why someone got to a page. Want to be
search centric? Use the search terms they used in google to get to
your page to offer other things YOUR search would have given them.
Hell, give them the option to repeat the SAME EXACT search they just
used on google to get to you. You can do it, you have the referer.

I want the isolationism in sites to die. DIE DEAD.

Google is your friend. They did a fine job of getting the user to
whatever page they got to. Don't try to replace them with some other
internal search, that won't ever be as good as google. (Unless you
are using a GSA which it looks like you might be.)

But a GSA is NOT big google.

However, giving an internal search based on GSA results in the form
of suggestions based on keywords from the page mixed with the user's
initial query that got them to that page from google or another search
WOULD be totally bad-ass.

I guess what I mean is that search-centric navigation is awesome if
the search is big google and will leave you wanting if you rely on it
alone internally.

And to address your meme thoughts. People don't search first. They
google first.

Yes, google is search. But people don't think like it is. It is
almost (and literally in most browsers) part of the browsing
interface.

People will get to, and your data will totally back this up,
adobe.com by typing adobe.com into google and then clicking the link.
Lots of them.

You can't beat it. Make it work for you instead.

I think the root cause of these search-centric thought processes is
the misconception that www.adobe.com is your front door. It isn't.
All your content pages are your front door. Or more accurately,
google is your front door. Or really your hallway.

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24 Sep 2009 - 12:03pm
Stefano Bussolon
2009

I agree when you say that the search function is a very important way
to allow the users to find out the information they are looking for.
But this should not substitute the "traditional" navigation.

The http://www.sequoiacap.com/ site, for example, has zero
information scent. I can't guess the contents of the site, and
therefore I can not know which words I should use to get some
information from their search engine.

I think a site should not choose a "search dominant" approach, but
a user centered one.
The user should decide how to navigate the site and how to find out
what he is looking for.

A good navigation, with an high information scent AND a good search
function should be provided.

None of them, of course, are trivial to design.

Stefano

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25 Sep 2009 - 9:42am
Michael Micheletti
2006

David,

I've been watching my wife and son struggle while learning to use Adobe
products, searching through help and online using their own words or
descriptions for what they think they want to do, knowing the answers are
locked up somewhere in a vault they can't identify. Eventually, they may
stumble upon "Object / Live Trace / Make and Expand" or "Layer / Create
clipping mask", but probably they won't. My wife was working in Photoshop
the other day when I came home, looking frustrated after trying to figure
out how to get her image back after saving it in another format and size,
having Googled all up one side and down the other. That one was gone, but I
showed her "Save for the Web" and she was good for the next time. Why didn't
she consider that choice in the first place? Because she was trying to "Save
for the Book".

Because Adobe products form a strange parallel universe all their own, with
Terms Not Found In Nature, it's hard to know what to look for unless you
already know what it is you're looking for. I'm not sure if search on the
Adobe website will solve that problem. But please, somewhere in your
decision process, take some time to watch novices struggle to learn your
products, and do your best to help them succeed. Thanks,

Michael Micheletti

On Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 4:10 PM, David Hatch <hatch at adobe.com> wrote:

>
>
> Hi all,
>
> For the past several months I have been perseverating on the concept of
> creating a search-dominant wayfinding system for my web site: Adobe.com.
> Why, you may ask? My thought (and I know Jared, at minimum will disagree
> after having just listened to a recent podcast from him on this) is that as
> web users we are moving more and more in that direction - toward search as
> being a standard, hard-wired, lizard brain reflex when confronted with
> moving through the vasty content spaces that are out there. The Googles
> have
> had no small impact on our wayfinding approaches.
>
> *Meme check: search as last resort?*
> I wanted to call out and question a particular meme, namely: ³search on
> sites like adobe.com is a function of last resort for those poor folks who
> aren¹t finding their trigger words in the page (nav or content). I know
> there is research on this so please hit me with it as necessary. But I
> can¹t
> help thinking that you could phrase a new approch like this: ³People search
> first because that¹s how they are used to finding info². What do you think?
>
> *Why a search dominant wayfinding mode?*
> Any attempt on our part (UXers) to come up with appropriate linked words or
> images to use as nav in the hopes of getting users where we think they want
> to go is only a guess. Sometimes our guesses at nav are great but sometimes
> they totally fail. What we do know is that in every user's mind is an
> intent
> as they move through a web site. If we let that user type their intent into
> a search box then that is a step closer to (and more feasible than)
> creating
> the mind reading UI we all know would be best for users. Of course the next
> thing is: are the search results useful? But lets assume they were. Why in
> that case would we not want to create a search dominant wayfinding UI for
> folks.
>
> *What would a search dominant wayfinding UI look like for a site that's not
> Google?*
> It would probably have a very prominent search field. One of those giant
> novelty size web 2.0 style things perhaps. For a site like adobe.com it
> would probably also have some standard links such as "products" and
> "support", etc but those would not be the main focus. Perhaps search could
> even be used to generate the local navigation on subsections. Perhaps the
> search input field could be integrated into the page such that it could
> also
> act as a page title (an example is here http://bit.ly/o81Vp, although
> admittedly its a results page). An extreme example of a search only UI on
> the homepage is here: http://www.sequoiacap.com/.
>
> Question: what are you thoughts on developing a search dominant wayfinding
> paradigm for a corporate site. I'd like to hear what you think.
>
> Thanks,
> David Hatch
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
Michael Micheletti
michael.micheletti at gmail.com

29 Sep 2009 - 8:35am
Sam Murray-Sutton
2009

Your message immediately brought to mind a comment from Jeff Atwood
discussing Stackoverflow -

"Google is our interface".

I think this sort of thinking is especially pertinent to any site
that has a knowledge base function.

Clearly a huge generalisation, but it's probably worth remembering
that many users will search your site with Google(other search
engines are available), so your search function is almost always
going to be at best a second resort.

-Sam

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29 Sep 2009 - 9:05am
AlokJain
2006

I agree with the idea of search being a powerful interface and that
"Google is our interface" idea. Even app launchers like Quicksilver
(OSX) have worked very well and they are fundamentally search.

However there are a few points that make it not so simple

1. From an experience standpoint the difference is same as asking a
customer to go to front desk and ask about something v/s approaching
the customer and introducing yourself. That applies to marketing
messages but also to navigation. Search is more in the category of
asking customer to go to a front desk - I think there is an
impersonal feeling to it.

I looked at Sequio capital example and it just makes me stop and
think what should I do next

2. Recognition v/s recall - Search requires recall of sorts, there
is a decision required on how to form the query and more. Browsing on
the other hand is more on the recognition side.

3. From a business standpoint you do want to make the customer aware
of the products without being dependent on the user asking the right
question because in many case they might not know that a particular
kind of product is offered by Adobe.

I think what will help is a simplification of product listing,
currently it's just a list of product names with every variation,
for e.g. Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop CS4 extended, there are 12
flash related products and so on.I think the customer would need
better guidance.

- Alok Jain (AJ)

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29 Sep 2009 - 1:59pm
AndrewHInton
2007

The default browse experience has several simultaneous goals. One of those
goals is to give a visitor some sense of what that site is about and what
can be expected to be found there. It helps orient a visitor and provide
context, whether the 'tabs' get clicked or not.

But the idea that *everything* in that site has to exist on some clickable,
static hierarchy of tree structures is possibly becoming an obsolete notion,
due to the sheer scale of such sites, especially user-generated behemoths
and "we sell everything" e-shops.

In these cases, there's more of a continuum between searching and browsing.

In fact, Search, done well, is essentially dynamic, custom browsing.

Even if I navigate Amazon by clicking categories until I get to a product
list that interests me, it's being generated dynamically. And the deeper I
go, the higher the percentage of links I see that are there uniquely because
of my behavior and product choices. These are all being driven by
sophisticated search queries kicked off by my click-to-browse activity.

Essentially I'm getting at this point: this search vs browse thing is more
and more a false dichotomy. The navigation super-structures are becoming
much more about *utility* than *content* ... such as on Flickr, where the
navigation has much more to do with *what I do with photos* (sort, search,
explore, share, etc) than the categories of photos themselves, which is
mostly being driven by user activity.

--
andrew hinton / inkblurt.com

29 Sep 2009 - 2:08pm
Mark Schraad
2006

On Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 1:59 PM, Andrew Hinton <inkblurt at gmail.com> wrote:

>
> In fact, Search, done well, is essentially dynamic, custom browsing.
>

That in it's self is rendering 'sense of place' as a less than effective a
metaphor.

29 Sep 2009 - 4:04pm
AndrewHInton
2007

Good point ... that's why I've been leaning more toward thinking in terms of
Context, which is related to place (and cognitively shares some brain matter
with how we process & navigate physical space), but thinking of this sort of
space in terms of context allows for the fluidity we find in digitally based
experiences.

It also allows us to think in terms of the user's context, which informs
their understanding of (and merges with) how we've arranged, categorized and
named things.

Of course, that's all kind of wishy-washy theoretical talk that I'm afraid
isn't immediately helpful to the kind soul from Adobe who started this
thread :-)

On Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 3:08 PM, mark schraad <mschraad at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 1:59 PM, Andrew Hinton <inkblurt at gmail.com> wrote:
>
>>
>> In fact, Search, done well, is essentially dynamic, custom browsing.
>>
>
>
> That in it's self is rendering 'sense of place' as a less than effective a
> metaphor.
>

--
andrew hinton / inkblurt.com

5 Oct 2009 - 7:03pm
David Hatch
2005

Hi all,
Thanks for taking the time to respond. Lots of thoughtful replies and additional info for me to go track down. While there are a few responses from folks that encourage a search dominant approach (Peter Morville) the majority of responders trended toward recommending a hybrid approach to search/browse, some who would emphasis search more and some who'd rely more on browse nav for a site like adobe.com (Jared Spool).

The example I gave for http://www.sequoiacap.com/ was intended as a furthest-down-the-spectrum extreme and while interesting, I don't think would work well for adobe.com. Whether or not it works well for Sequoia Capital I will let them say. But hats off to them for a bold direction nonetheless! (Would love to hear from the designers there about that.)

The biggest reason given by responders on this list to be at least a bit wary of a search dominant nav approach relates to the worry that folks often will not type in the exact terms they need in order to arrive at the content we have provided for them. OK, we try to speak in a users language as UXers but we don't always get it right. And even if we did match some users we would not match others. So that's a problem.

But since I'm not willing to give in just yet, I like the idea of using "bridging" utilities such as "related searches" "popular searches". I also like using course correction and or narrowing/broadening options of faceted navy generated after a search to better get users to where they want to go. But even the best bridging techniques will not work in the case of Michael Micheletti's wife who was looking for a term in no way related to the way the web site had titled their resource that answered her question.

>From Alok Jain: "Search requires recall of sorts, there is a decision required on how to form the query and more. Browsing on the other hand is more on the recognition side." I like this and would add that there is much less cognitive muscle required on the part of the user to point and say "that" when presented with the proper stimulus than to formulate a question (a higher order skill). That said, there are only so many "thats" we can generate for users to click on which comes to the whole browse nav not scaling very well thing.

The prevailing wisdom of this group is to rock the hybrid approach phrased fictionally as "Yes, make search work better don't put all your eggs in that basket and please invest real time in rethinking the trigger words for the browse structure to better reflect user needs."

So much more to think about here but again I really appreciated the thoughts from you all on this. It was especially fun to see Peter and Jared face off on this. An old argument I guess. And to William Brall, yes I am one of the ones. Wish me luck as there is a lot of work to do.

As an aside question: many web sites including adobe.com position the search box in the upper right corner of the screen which is also the position of the browser search box (when enabled). One of the reasons I wanted to put it there is to capitalize on the expectation of place established by browsers. But its similarity in placement may cause users to type into the wrong box by mistake. Does anyone have any usability best practices on placement of search boxes?

Thanks again,
David

On 9/29/09 2:04 PM, "Andrew Hinton" <inkblurt at gmail.com> wrote:

Good point ... that's why I've been leaning more toward thinking in terms of
Context, which is related to place (and cognitively shares some brain matter
with how we process & navigate physical space), but thinking of this sort of
space in terms of context allows for the fluidity we find in digitally based
experiences.

It also allows us to think in terms of the user's context, which informs
their understanding of (and merges with) how we've arranged, categorized and
named things.

Of course, that's all kind of wishy-washy theoretical talk that I'm afraid
isn't immediately helpful to the kind soul from Adobe who started this
thread :-)

On Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 3:08 PM, mark schraad <mschraad at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 1:59 PM, Andrew Hinton <inkblurt at gmail.com> wrote:
>
>>
>> In fact, Search, done well, is essentially dynamic, custom browsing.
>>
>
>
> That in it's self is rendering 'sense of place' as a less than effective a
> metaphor.
>

--
andrew hinton / inkblurt.com
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5 Oct 2009 - 9:12pm
Joshua Porter
2007

On Oct 5, 2009, at 8:03 PM, David Hatch wrote:
>
>
>> From Alok Jain: "Search requires recall of sorts, there is a
>> decision required on how to form the query and more. Browsing on
>> the other hand is more on the recognition side." I like this and
>> would add that there is much less cognitive muscle required on the
>> part of the user to point and say "that" when presented with the
>> proper stimulus than to formulate a question (a higher order
>> skill). That said, there are only so many "thats" we can generate
>> for users to click on which comes to the whole browse nav not
>> scaling very well thing.
>

This reminds me of an insight Rashmi Sinha had about tagging quite
some time back.

http://rashmisinha.com/2005/09/27/a-cognitive-analysis-of-tagging/

Rashmi's argument is kind of the opposite of Alok's.

Instead of category recognition being easier, it might actually be
harder because it forces people to translate between what they have in
their head and what the site has in its navigation. In other words,
you have to make a decision (sometimes several decisions) about which
category your thing is in.

Search, on the other hand, takes advantage of what you already
know...the words in your head. All you have to do is type them in. I
would argue that "how to form a query" is an overstated problem...a
bigger problem might be "find your term in this pile of terms".

Of course, the primary difference between tagging and search is that
when you refind something with tags you're actually comparing your
current tag with past tags that you have created. In search you're
comparing your search term with the site's terms, so there isn't any
of *you* in the set. (This is why creating search systems is so
hard...nobody is saying it is easy)

So it's not clear that browsing is any easier than searching from a
cognitive standpoint. In the same way that Rashmi describes tagging as
"eliminating the decision of choosing the right category" search also
"eliminates the decision of choosing the right category"...it doesn't
force the user to do any matching between what's in their head and
what's on the site. Search engines, when done well, does that matching
for them.

Josh

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