Presentation: The Why and How of Findability

“The Why and How of Findability” presented by Kristian Norling at the ScanJour Kundeseminar in Copenhagen, 6 September 2012. We can make information findable with good metadata. The metadata makes it possible to create browsable, structured and highly findable information. We can make findability (and enterprise search) better by looking at findability in five different dimensions.

Five dimensions of Findability

1. BUSINESS – Build solutions to support your business processes and goals

2. INFORMATION – Prepare information to make it findable

3. USERS – Build usable solutions based on user needs

4. ORGANISATION – Govern and improve your solution over time

5. SEARCH TECHNOLOGY – Build solutions based on state-of-the-art search technology

Video: Search Analytics in Practice

Search Analytics in Practice from Findwise on Vimeo.

This presentation is about how to use search analytics to improve the search experience. A small investment in time and effort can really improve the search on your intranet or website. You will get practical advice on what metrics to look at and what actions can be taken as a result of the analysis.

Video in swedish “Sökanalys i praktiken”.

The presentation was recorded in Gothenburg on the 4th of May 2012.

The presentation featured in the video:

Search Analytics in Practice

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Video interview: How to Improve the Search Experience

Video interview with Kristian Norling at the Intrateam Event in Copenhagen 2012. Kristian talks about his former work at VGR and what he thinks is important for improving the search experience.

Kristian Norling

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Mobile clients and Enterprise Search – What are the Implications?

As we all know the smartphone user base is growing explosively. According to www.statcounter.com, internet access from handheld mobile devices has doubled yearly since 2009 adding up to 8,5 % of all page views globally in January 2012. And mobile users want to be able to do all the same things that they are able to do on their PC. And that includes access to the company’s Enterprise Search solution!

The benefits of the sales force being able to search for vital customer information before a meeting or for field service personnel being able to find documentation quickly are quite obvious. So how can an organization tweak its search solution in order to provide convenient access for the mobile users? And above all, what will it cost?

Well, to answer the last question first: much less than you think. Providing for the mobile user is mainly about creating a new front end/UI. The main bulk of your search solution remains the same; indexing, metadata structure and content publishing, for instance, remain essentially unaffected.

But you do need to provide a quite different UI in order for the user interaction to work smoothly considering the specific characteristics of the mobile client primarily when it comes to screen size/resolution and text input. But the smartphone also has a lot of features that the PC lacks – it is always available and it knows exactly where you are, it always has a camera, microphone, speaker, possibly a magnetometer and accelerometer and of course a touchscreen with motions like pinching and swiping etc. And many of these features can be quite useful as the following examples prove:

Illustration 1. Google Mobile Voice Search on the iPhone. Courtesy of UX Matters, www.uxmatters.com

  • Google Mobile App for iPhone: in this app, the iPhone senses when the phone is lifted towards the ear and hence knows when to listen for a search command. Since the phone also knows where the user is, a search for “restaurant” automatically generates hits with restaurants in your vicinity.
  • Scanning a Barcode or QR-code: scanning a Barcode or QR-code with your phone is another way of entering a search string. An example could be a product in a store where the customer could open a price-search-engine and scan the QR-code of the product and see where the best price is.

As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities for those who want to be creative. But for the most part, the I/O will still be done via the screen. At UX Matters there is a great article by Greg Nudelman describing the considerations when implementing search for mobile clients and suggestions for various design patterns that can be efficient (see http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2010/04/design-patterns-for-mobile-faceted-search-part-i.php). I have included a brief summary below together with illustrations courtesy of UX Matters. But first, some general considerations for mobile clients:

  • Use Javascript code to detect what type of device is accessing your search solution and if it is a mobile client you display the mobile interface.
  • Native App or Mobile Web App: Creating a Mobile Web App is easier and cheaper than creating a native App – for one thing you don’t have to create multiple versions for different OS’s (although you still need to test your solution with different browsers/resolutions). Performance wise there isn’t a big difference between Native Apps and Web Apps and mobile browsers are increasingly gaining access to most of the phones hardware as well.
  • Authentication: SSO for mobile web applications works the same as for desktop browsers.  There are also new solutions currently being launched enabling usage of the company’s existing Active Directory infrastructure. One example is Centrify Directcontrol for Mobile enabling a centralized administration within Active Directory of all device security settings, profiles, certificates and restrictions.
  • Use HTML5 instead of FLASH: iPhones don’t support FLASH but HTML5 is a very capable alternative
  • Testing: How the design looks for different resolutions can be tested through various emulators but it is always recommendable to test on a limited set of real smartphones as well.
  • Access needs to be quick and simple: user interaction is more cumbersome on a phone than on a PC. Normally try to avoid solutions that require more than 3 input actions.
  • Menu navigation: links on the right side are normally used to drill down in the menu hierarchy and left up/towards the home screen
  • Gestures: is a very powerful toolbox that can be used in many different ways to create an efficient UI. For example, use “pinch to show more” if you want to expand the summary information of a specific item in the search hit list or “swipe” to expose the metadata (or whatever action you want to assign to that gesture).
  • Be creative: the mobile client is inherently different from a PC, limited in some ways but more powerful in others. So if you just try to adopt design solutions from the PC and fit them into a mobile UI you are missing out on a lot of powerful design solutions that only make sense on a mobile client and you are definitely not giving the users the best possible search experience. Also, since mobile design is still evolving you don’t need to be limited by conventions and expectations as much as on the PC side – make the most of this freedom to be creative!
  • W3C mobile: for more information about mobile web development, see http://www.w3.org/Mobile/ which also includes a validating scheme to assess the readiness of content for the mobile web

Design patterns for mobile UI (with courtesy of Greg Nudelman/UX Matters)

Mobile faceting can be tricky but by using design patterns like “4 Corners”, “Modal Overlays”, “Watermarks” and “Teaser Design” the UI can become both intuitive and easy to learn as well as providing reasonably powerful functionality. As mentioned, these techniques are summaries from an article written by Greg Nudelman for UX Matters. If you are eager to learn more, feel free to check out Greg’s website and his upcoming workshops focused on mobile design http://www.designcaffeine.com/category/workshops/

4 Corners: instead of stealing scarce real estate by adding faceting options directly on the screen together with the search result, semitransparent buttons are available in each corner enabling the user to bring up a faceting menu by tapping in a corner (see illustration 2).

Modal Overlays: the modal overlay is displayed on top of the original page. The modal overlay works well together with the 4 corners design – tapping a corner opens up the overlay containing faceting functions like filtering and sorting (see illustration 2).

Illustration 2. Four Corners and Modal Overlay patterns. Courtesy of UX Matters, www.uxmatters.com

Watermarks: a great technique for guiding users and showing the possibility of using new functions. The watermarks, possibly animated, show a symbol for the available action, for instance arrows indicating that a swiping gesture could be used (see illustration 3).

Full-Page Refinement Options Pattern: gives the user plenty of refinement options to choose from (see illustration 3).

Illustration 3. Two variations of the Watermark pattern and a Refinement Options pattern. Courtesy of UX Matters, www.uxmatters.com

Teaser Design: show part of the next available content so that the user is aware that there is more content available (see illustration 4).

Illustration 4. Teaser design pattern facilitates the discovery of faceted search filters. Courtesy of UX Matters, www.uxmatters.com

Persistent Status Bar: always maintain a persistent status bar containing the search string together with applied filters in the search result page. This helps the user maintain orientation. Note that all of the illustrations above have a persistent status bar.

Conclusion

Although Best Practices for mobile UI design are still evolving, plenty of progress has already been made and there are several solutions and design patterns to choose from depending on the specific circumstances at hand. So an implementation project need not be rocket science, as long as you learn the right tricks…

Bringing enterprise information to the field, readily available in a mobile handset or tablet, will mobilize your employees. The UI requires rethinking as we have seen. And security needs to be addressed properly to avoid having sensitive data compromised. But other than that, you are ready to go!

Findability, a holistic approach to implementing search technology

We are proud to present the first video on our new Vimeo channel. Enjoy!

Findability Dimensions

Successful search project does not only involve technology and having the most skilled developers, it is not enough. To utilise the full potential and receive return on search technology investments there are five main dimensions (or perspectives) that all need to be in focus when developing search solutions, and that require additional competencies to be involved.

This holistic approach to implementing search technology we call Findability by Findwise.

Search Driven Navigation and Content

In the beginning of October I attended Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2011 in Anaheim, USA. There were a lot of interesting and useful topics that were discussed. One really interesting session was Content Targeting with the FAST Search Web Part by Martin Harwar.

Martin Harwar talked about how search can be used to show content on a web page. The most common search-driven content is of course the traditional search. But there are a lot more content that can be retrieved by search. One of them is to have search-driven navigation and content. The search-driven navigation means that instead of having static links on a page we can render them depending on the query the user typed in. If a user is for example on a health care site and had recently done a search on “ear infection” the page can show links to ear specialist departments. When the user will do another search and returns to the same page the links will be different.

In the same way we can render content on the page. Imagine a webpage of a tools business that on its start page has two lists of products, most popular and newest tools. To make these lists more adapted for a user we only want show products that are of interest for the user. Instead of only showing the most popular and newest tools the lists can also be filtered on the last query a user has typed. Assume a user searches on “saw” and then returns to the page with the product lists. The lists will now show the most popular saws and the newest saws. This can also be used when a user finds the companies webpage by searching for “saw” on for instance Google.

This shows that search can be used in many ways to personalize a webpage and thereby increase Findability.

Design Principles for Enterprise Search – The Philosophy of UX

In May I attended An Event Apart in Boston (AEA). AEA is a 2-day (design) conference for people who working with websites and was created by the father of web design Jeffrey Zeldman and the CSS guru Eric Meyer. The conference has a broad perspective, dealing with everything from how to write CSS3 and HTML5 to content strategy and graphic design. This post is about an AEA topic brought up by Whitney Hess: Create design principles and use them to establish a philosophy for the user experience.

Hess wants to create universal principals for user experience to communicate a shared understanding amongst team members and customers and to create a basis for an objective evaluation. The principles suggested by Hess are listed below along with examples of how these can relate to search and search user interfaces.

Stay out of people’s way

When you do know what people want stay out of their way

Google knows what to do when people visit their search at Google.com. They get out of the way and make it easy to get things done. The point is not to disturb users with information they do not need, including everything from modal popup windows or to many settings.

Create a hierarchy that matches people’s needs

Give crucial elements the greatest prominence

This means that the most used information should be easy to find and use. A classic example is that on most university webpages – it is almost impossible to find contact details to faculty members or campus address but very easy to find a statement of the school philosophy. But the former is probably what users mostly will try to find.

university website -  xkcd.com/773/

Limit distractions

This principle means that you should design for consecutive tasks and limit related information to the information you know would help the user with her current task. Don’t include related information in a search user interface just because you can if the information does not add value.

Provide strong information scent

There should be enough information in search results for users to decide if results are relevant. In an e-commerce site this would be the difference between selling and not selling. A search result will not be perceived as cluttered if the correct data is shown.

Provide signposts and cues

Always make it clear how to start a new search, how to apply filters and what kind of actions can be applied to specific search results.

Provide context

Let the user know that there are different kinds of search result. Display thumbnails for pictures and videos or show msn availability in people search.

Use constraints appropriately

Prevent errors before they happen. Query suggestion is a good way as it helps users correct spelling error before they happen. This saves time and frustration for the user.

Make actions reversible

Make it obvious how to removes filters or reset other settings.

Provide feedback

Interaction is a conversation so let the user know when something happens or when the search interface fetches new search results. Never let the user guess what happens.

Make a good first impression

You only have one time to make a first impression. It is therefore important to spend time designing the first impression of any interface. Always aim to make the experience for new users better. This could mean voluntary tutorials or fun and good-looking welcome messages.

So now what?

Are universal principles enough? Probably not. Every project and company is different and need their own principles to identify with. Hess ended her presentation with tips on how to create company principles to complement the universal principles. Maybe there will be future blog posts about creating your own design principles.

So what are your company’s principles?

Snapshots of a User Experience Course

In April I attended the User Experience (UX) Intensive course in Amsterdam, hosted by experience design firm Adaptive Path.

One thing I found interesting was the variations of participants’ work focus over the product development process. Some specialize in doing user research whereas others, myself included, cover the whole process from high-level strategy to detailed interaction design.

Looking back on the four intensive days, mixing lectures and hands-on exercises, there are some thoughts I would like to share with you, sticking to topics applicable when developing intranet and company public websites.

Nothing exists in isolation

Design a thing by considering it in its next largest context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, environment in a city plan

Eliel Saarinen – Finnish architect (1873-1950)

This quote came up in the course when covering design strategy. An architect originally stated it, but it can be applied to all design areas, including websites and digital applications.

For instance, lets look at an intranet: it is definitely not used in isolation. It is part of a workflow involving several IT systems and other information channels such as face-to-face meetings. Looking only at Findwise area of expertise: the search function is undeniably an essential part of the website.

Typically, search tries to replicate/mirror the navigational structure of a site. This is reasonable, and good, but surely this relation could go the other way as well – navigation can learn from the dynamics of search and from user search behavior. Navigation and search should be intertwined, rather than being two separate ways of accessing information. Studies show that users are not either searchers or navigators; sometimes users are biased to search and sometimes to click menu items and links. Most of the times users actually combine the two methods when visiting a website. This should be considered when developing a new website – search and the rest of the site should not be developed separately.

Moreover, internal platforms for spreading information and collaboration are typically used in different contexts by different users. An example: The developer use it to up- and download day-to-day work documents whereas the general user mainly view it as a news channel to keep up to date with what is going on in the organization. Yet editors use it to publish information for other employees to access.

In large organizations, applications used by employees are typically owned by different units – units that do not talk to each other. I am convinced that all system owners within an organization have things to learn form each other. After all, they are often serving the same people and might otherwise redo work such as target group analysis. All parts will gain from communicating more across organizational borders.

Why Web Search is Like a Store Clerk

When someone is using the search function on your web site, your web search, it tells you two things. First of all they have a specific need, expressed by their search query. Second, and more importantly he or she wants you to fulfill that need. If users didn’t care where the service was delivered from, they would have gone straight to Google. Hence, the use of your search function signals trust in your capabilities. This means that even if the majority of your website visitors doesn’t use the search function, you know that the ones who do have a commitment to you. Imagine you are working in a store as a clerk; the customer coming up to you and asking you something is probably more interested in doing business with you than the ones just browsing the goods.

This trust however, can easily be turned to frustration and bad will if the web search result is poor and users don’t find what they are looking for. Continuing our analogy with the store, this is much like the experience of looking for a product, wandering around for a few minutes, finally deciding to ask a clerk and getting the answer “If it’s not on the shelf we don’t have it”. I certainly would leave the store and the same applies for a web site. If users fail when browsing and searching, then they will probably leave your site. The consequence is that you might antagonize loyal customers or loose an easy sale. So how do you recognize a bad search function? A good way to start is to look at common search queries and try searching for them yourself. Then start asking a few basic questions such as:

  • Does the sorting of the search results make sense?
  • Is it possible to decide which result is interesting based on the information in the result presentation?
  • Is there any possibility to continue navigating the results if the top hits are not what you are looking for?

Answering these questions yourself will tell you a lot about how your web search is performing. The first step to a good user experience is to know where your challenges are, then you can start making changes to improve the issues you have found in order to make your customers happier. After all, who wants to be the snarky store clerk?