Designing the Search Interface

With so much variation among users to account for, 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 the right way to design search interfaces. Here are a few of the variables on the table:

  • The level of searching expertise users have: Are they comfortable with Boolean operators, or do they prefer natural language? Do they need a simple or high-powered interface? What about a help page?

  • The kind of information the user wants: Do they want just a taste, or are they doing comprehensive research? Should the results be brief, or should they provide extensive detail for each document?

  • The type of information being searched: Is it made up of structured fields or full text? Is it navigation pages, destination pages, or both? HTML or other formats?

  • How much information is being searched: Will users be overwhelmed by the number of documents retrieved?

We can, however, provide basic advice that you should consider when designing a search interface.

Support Different Modes of Searching

Before diving into design, think hard about why users are searching your site, and what they want to get out of their search. Are they likely to search for certain types of information, such as specific product descriptions or staff directory entries? If so, support modes of searching that are delineated by content types—use the same interface to allow ...

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