All the factors we’ve discussed so far—what to search, what to retrieve, and how to present the results—come together in the search interface. And with so much variation among users and search technology functions, there can be no single ideal search interface. Although the literature of information retrieval includes many studies of search interface design, many variables preclude the emergence of a “right way” to design search interfaces. Here are a few of the variables on the table:
Are users comfortable with specialized query languages (e.g., Boolean operators) or do they prefer natural language? Do they need a simple or a high-powered interface? What about help information: how much, and where should it go?
Do users want just a taste, or are they doing comprehensive research? What content components can help them make good decisions about clicking through to a document? Should the results be brief, or should they provide extensive detail for each document?
Is the information made up of structured fields or full text? Is it navigation pages, destination pages, or both? Is it written in HTML or other formats, including non-textual?
Will users be overwhelmed by the number of documents retrieved? How many results is the “right number”?
That’s a lot to consider. Luckily, we can provide basic advice that ...