Hey, I’m happy you have found your way here, you are currently reading the third part in the series Design Elements of Search. This part is dedicated to filters, tabs and something we like to call filter tags.
A blog series – Six posts about Design Elements of Search
- The Search Bar
- Autocomplete Suggestions
- Filters <– You are here
- Landing page
- Zero-results page
A word on Technology and Relevance – a disclaimer
Equally important as having a good user interface is having the right technology and the right relevance model set-up. I will not cover technology and relevance in this blog series. If you wish to read more, these topics is well covered by Findwise since before: Improve search relevancy and Findwise.com/technology.
When setting up new search solutions, we tend to spend a lot of time with the data structure. How should our users slice and dice the search-results? What makes sense? What does not? This is the part of the job sometimes classified as Information Architecture (IA). This text focuses more on the visual elements, the results of the IA work you can say.
Don’t make it difficult
The biggest pitfall when designing search is to overwhelm the user with too many options.
You got a million hits! – There are 345566 pages – Here are some results, Do you only want to see People results? – Sort by Price, Ascending or Descending?! – Click me – Did you mean: Coffee buns? – Click me – CLICK MEEEE! Yep, try to tone this down if you can.
Below you’ll see a disastrous layout. There is so many things screaming for users’ attention. If you look really hard, you can see a search result all the way down in the bottom of the picture.
I said above that we spend a lot of time on the structure (IA). And we generally spend a lot of time on filters as well. This time is well spent. However, we need to realize that what is most important for our users. Do they find what they are looking for, or not? The order of the search results, i.e. the relevance is most important. Therefore, the actual search results should be totally in focus, visually in your interface.
Make it Easy
Instead of giving your users too many options up-front, consider hiding filters under a button or link. The button can say “Filter search results”, or “Refine results” or “Filter and Sort”. I’ll show you what I mean below. I have removed and renamed things from the above example, creating a design mockup. It’s not a perfect redesign, but you get my point, hopefully. All of a sudden there is room for three results on screen, success!
The second example is a sneak peek of White Arkitekter internal search solution. Here we can follow the user searching from the start page and applying a filter. The search results are in focus, and at the same time it’s easy to apply filters when needed. A good example.
Search inside Filters
In the best case, a specific filter will contain a handful of values that are easily scanned just by looking at the list. In reality however, often these lists of filter values are long. How should you sort the list? Often, we sort them by “most first”, sometimes alphabetically. When the list is not easily scannable, provide a way to “search” inside the filter. Like this:
Filters values with Zero Results
Hey, if a filter value will yield zero results, like Calendar, Local files and Archived files below. Show the filter value but don’t make it clickable! Why on earth would you want that? You don’t want to send your users to a dead end. Sometimes they will end up there anyway, and then you have to help. Skip ahead to the part about the Zero Results Page to learn about how to help users recover.
I said above that the results should be the graphical element that stands out the most. And also, that making the first refinement should be easy to make. Well, this will mean that the filters will be hidden behind something. This does not mean, by the way, that the filter selection made by the user, should be hidden. On the contrary. You definitely want to be clear about what things affect the search results. This is normally the query, the filter selections and the sorting. A filter tag is simply a graphical element that is clearly visible above the search results when activated. It is also easy to remove it, simply by clicking on it. Below, I show you an example when the user has filtered on “News”.
If you are up to a third example of filters check this case study out about Personalized search results in Netflix-style user interface.
This was all I had for you regarding filters. I hope some of it made sense, if not let’s get in touch, you can ask me about more details. Or perhaps tell me something I have missed. Always be learning! Next post will discuss results, see you over there.