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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Search & Firmed Up Mental Models

Jakob writes, that users are now forming mental models that they expect to apply across the Web, and even to their intranets.Users now have precise expectations for the behavior of search. Designs that invoke this mental model but work differently are confusing.
Users expect search to have three components:
• A box where they can type words
• A button labeled "search" that they click to run the search
• A list of top results that's linear, prioritized, and appears on a new page - the search engine results page (SERP)
In user testing, they say that search on websites and intranets should work like X, where X is their favorite major search engine. All the three major engines (Google, Yahoo, and MSN) work the same: exactly as stated in the list above. Deviating from this expected design almost always causes usability problems. Sites that separate out some search results and place them in boxes risk having these links overlooked because users often assume they're ads. Instead, such "best bets" should be the first items in the linear list.Scoped search that covers only a current subsite often misleads users who rarely have to consider what’s being searched.
It's crucial that one avoids invoking a user's mental model of search for other interactions says Jokob and advises against using a "Search" button for parametric search. Although often useful, such searches don't fit the design pattern for search. The mental model is so strong that the label "Search" equals keyword searching, not other types of search.Most database programmers view parametric queries and other types of retrievals as a form of search. Currently, there's no single winning label for non-keyword search, but Find and Retrieve seem to work well. For winnowing, one can use labels like "Refine Results." Finally, advanced search that combines keyword searching with other search forms can be helpful, but it should be a secondary option that's only displayed when users ask for it. Just wondering where all the visual search and personalises search fall in,particularly in this multmedia, broadband world.

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"All views expressed are my personal views are not related in any way to my employer"