Time for the first part in the series Design Elements of Search. How do you design a search solution so that it provides value to your organization? How do you make sure users enjoy, use and actually find what they expect? There are already so many great implementations of successful search applications, what can we learn from them? If these questions are in your domain, then you have reached the right place. Buckle up, you are in for a ride! Let’s dive into it right away by discussing the search bar.
A blog series – Six posts about Design Elements of Search
- The Search Bar <– You are here
- Autocomplete Suggestions
- 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.
Designing the Search Bar
To set the scene and get cozy, here are some search bars.
Placing the search bar in the “right” place
Before discussing the individual graphical elements of the search bar, let’s consider where a search bar can be placed. On the search page itself, it normally resides in the top of the page (think Google). However, consider the vast landscape of your digital workplace and you might understand where I am going. A search bar can be placed on your intranet, usually in the header. It can be placed in the taskbar of your workforces’ computers. It can be placed in multiple other business applications in your control. From our perspective this is called entry points. It is well worth following up where your users come from. This is only one data point, you definitely want to follow up more usage statistics. You want to be data informed. In our client projects we usually use Kibana for statistics, showing graphs in custom dashboards. Before redesigning something, we first analyze existing usage statistics, and then follow up with users to draw conclusions that will inform design decisions. I’ll stop talking about usage statistics now, let’s go ahead and break down the search bar.
A placeholder text invites users to the search bar. The placeholder text explains what your users can expect to find in this search solution. While respecting the tone of voice of your application, it doesn’t hurt to be friendly and helpful here. Examples of good placeholder texts is: “What are you looking for today?” “How can we help?” “Find people, projects and more”. H&M, the clothing store have implemented a dynamic placeholder text that animates in a neat way.
Google Photos is switching it around and suggests what you can search for based on the meta data of your uploaded photos, here are a few examples.
The placeholder text should be gray, so that the text is not mistaken to be actual data entered into the search bar. The placeholder text should immediately disappear when your user starts typing.
Make sure the color of the search bar and the background color of the page provides enough contrast so that the search bar is clearly visible. It’s is also fine to have the same color if you provide a border around the search bar with enough contrast. Here a few good examples, and some bad.
Google actually have low contrast on the border surrounding the search bar. The search bar also has the same color as the page. Normally this is something to avoid. There is few items on the page, and users expect to search at Google.com, so they get away with low contrast I guess. Still, Bing is better in this regard.
If you are unsure, check if your current colors provide enough contrast using an online Contrast Checker.Chances are your contrasts are too low and need improvement.
The Search Button
This is the button that performs the search. Many people use the Enter key on their keyboard instead of clicking this button. However, you still want to keep the search button for clarity and ease of use. Generally, all icons should have labels. The search button is one of the few icons for which it´s safe to skip the label. I can argue that the search icon is generally recognized, especially in the context of search. On the other hand, if you have the room. Why not use a label? I mean it cannot be clearer than this:
Clear the search bar easily with an “X”
As frequently implemented on mobile applications, you should provide an easy way of clearing the text-field on your desktop application. This is accomplished by an “X”-icon. As discussed above, not many icons are recognized by majority of users. Therefore, it is common practice to provide labels for icons. For the “X”-icon in this specific context, is also fine to skip the label.
Number of Results
After the query has been executed and results are showing, it is helpful to communicate how many results that were returned. This provides value in itself, and in combination with filters it is even more powerful. Telling the users how many results were returned is helping them understand how your search application is working, especially in combinations with applied filters. Skip ahead to Filters and read all about it. Avoid sounding like a robot, don’t say “Showing 10 of 28482 results on Pages 1-2849. Plainly say “Showing 123 results” or “123 results found”.
Did you mean
Use the power of search technologies and query analysis to give your users the option to adjust the initial query for the better. Sometimes you will suggest a correctly spelled query when your user misspelled, or you can suggest alternative phrases or other related terms.
Here we are, right at the end of the first part. I hope it was compelling, there is more where this came from, so keep on reading. To sum up this first part, when designing the search bar, just the obvious things need to be right. In the second part, you’ll get to know something called autocomplete suggestions. This feature helps your users formulate better queries, and that really is a good start.