All About Website Usability Blog – Holly Phillips

Endeca’s faceted search (from Mark Burrell’s UIE webinar)
January 21, 2010, 4:52 am
Filed under: Search

My last post summarized Peter Morville’s portion of the UIE webinar on Search Design Patterns.  Here’s part II:

Peter Morville’s talk was followed by a discussion led by Mark Burrell of Endeca, outlining the spefics of Endeca’s faceted navigation.  Key takeaways here:

  • Endeca has a UI Design Pattern Library.  From the examples that were shown, the seem to be patterns for the guided navigation portion of the page (for example, vertical stack guided nav, range slider, multi-select)
  • To design a good search experience, you need to understand business goals, user types, goals & scenarios, assets, and modes of integration
  • Think about both the “knowledgeable seeker” and the “uncertain explorer”
  • Faceted navigation isn’t limited to just text descriptions; he gave a good example of a car website ( that allows “browse by type” by showing sketches of body types (sedan, minivan, coupe, etc)
  • Quantitative facets can be given using range sliders, which gives the visitor greater control over seeing exactly what he wants (for example, all plane tickets between $100 and $450)

All in all, a pretty good summary of some of the best aspects and best practices of faceted navigation today.


Trends in Search (from Peter Morville’s UIE webinar)
January 13, 2010, 4:53 am
Filed under: customer-centered-design, Search

Peter Morville and Mark Burrell just gave a webinar in one of Jared Spool’s UIE webinars. Topic: Search and Discovery Patterns.

The premise is that good Search is critical to a website, and using pre-existing design patterns can really help Search be successful. Nothing new in that premise — anyone who uses the web knows how critical Search is, and how frustrating it is when it doesn’t work as expected. But they did give some good examples of new uses of Search. Here are some of the highlights:

  • “Search is iterative and interactive, what we find changes what we seek” – Interesting concept, and helps explain why people’s expectations change as new search methodologies come onto the scene.
  • “Browsing does not scale” – meaning that at some point, listing the navigation topics becomes unwieldy. Not sure I totally agree with this. If done well, you can index a pretty deep site with browsing navigation in a very usable way. (And, as a colleague points out, some might say that “Search does not scale” at some point — especially if you have a wide variety of types of search results.)
  • ” ‘Best first’ is one of the primary search patterns, and is the key to Google’s success” – Can’t argue with that! His point is that the algorithms to determine relevance are extermemly important, and including “social data” can help immensely. (Social data, or social search, involves paying attention to what other searchers think are successful results for a particular search and then using that information in the relevance algorithm.)
  • “Faceted navigation lets people begin the way they normally do, by entering a search term. But then it gives users a custom map for their search term, and gives them a simple next step” – This is key – so many websites have pages that just dump the customer onto them and have no clear next step. Examples given are Yelp, NCSU Libraries, Land’s End, Buzzillions, Amazon. One of the key aspects of Faceted Navigation is that it blurs the line between search and browse – in Land’s End, for example, you can browse down into the site but still see a faceted navigation display on the left side of each page.
  • “We’re finding ways to take the search interaction beyond just search” – example is Songza, which gives search results on the same page as allowing you to actually play the songs.
  • “We must keep questioning how we define search, how we define the problem” – This was, in my mind, the best part of the presentation. They showed several examples of non-traditional uses of Search. For example: Maybe the box is really a place to ask questions, and we should strive to return answers and not results (wolfram). Or maybe search is about helping people to make better decisions (hunch). Or maybe it’s all about understanding and interactive visual results (oakland crimespotting). Or finding similar images (gazopa). Or searching by singing (iPhone music search). “In the future of search, it’s critical that we consider the user experience across channels” – For example, with the iPhone, the search must work on the phone itself, in the iTunes app, and in the iTunes store. Search needs to allow users to move fluidly across those platforms.
  • “Getting search right requires a microscope, a telescope, and a kaleidascope” – A microscope to really dig into the details, understand the search logs, and ensure individual searches are relevant. A telescope to see the big picture and how search fits with navigation, other channels, and trends on the web. And a kaleidascope to see things differently and see how search is a part of many different things.
  • “Search is a hybrid between design, engineering, and marketing. It’s a project and a process, and the problem is never solved” – This is a great quote and a great reminder that the job is never done. Providing great search results requires constant ongoing review of search logs, external trends, refinement using social data, etc.

My next post will summarize the second half of this webinar, led by Mark Burrell of Endeca.

Clarity Trumps Persuasion – always!
January 5, 2010, 4:23 am
Filed under: customer-centered-design, Landing Page design, usability basics

I just attended a great webinar by Marketing Experiments called “Clarity Trumps Persuasion”.  If you’re not familiar with them, Marketing Experiments is a company that specializes in optimizing website landing pages, but the principles they tout are equally applicable to normal web pages.  Their main point:  poorly-designed pages that present visitors with competing objectives end up confusing cusotmers and damaging conversion rates.

A great quote from Flint McGlaughlin:  “The chief enemy to forward momentum is confusion.”  If you don’t have a clear next action on the page, you’re “bleeding revenue”. 

I’ve written earlier about our simple A/B test with a landing page where we applied some of these basic principles and improved our conversion rate by 370% (which directly translates into a 370% increase in ROI, by the way).  But we should all remember that these same principles apply to non-landing pages as well.  Yes, typical site pages may have to serve many purposes (for example, a product page need to serve those who want to find out about the product before purchase, buy the product, and service or support the product after purchase.)  That’s how we often justify having many, many links on a page like this and expecting the customer to figure out what he wants to do.  But that’s in fact the easiest way to confuse and lose the visitor. 

If, instead, those pages had very clear next steps and helped walk the cusomer down the right path, they’d be MUCH more effective.  “Clarity trumps persuasion”.  Indeed – clear pages with clear next steps will always improve customer thruput and conversion rates.

Takeaways from Patric Hofmann’s “Icons & Images” presentation
January 5, 2010, 4:05 am
Filed under: confidence, customer-centered-design, scent, usability basics, visual design

I just attended a webnar on “Icons & Images” by Patrick Hofmann.  Key takeaways:

When designing an icon, strive for:

  • Simplicity – simplify the design to just the key elements that convey the message.  For example, iPhone uses only 4 buttons in an icon of a calculator, instead of showing an entire calculator face.  Use silhouettes or outlines where possible
  • Distinction – make sure the icons are clearly distinct from other icons used on that same page; use color, contrast, size , and shape to help differentiate.  Again, iPhone does a good job at this:

  • Standardization – use common icons that people already understand (eg envelope for mail; clockface for clock).  The American Society for Graphic Artists and iStock Photos are good places to look for common icons
  • Words – If needed, use one or two words (no more) in conjunction with an icon.  Some users are more text-based than visual-based so words will help, but only if the icons aren’t clear on their own, and if the addition of text won’t add clutter.  One example – a square box with the words “TV” inside is much more instantly recognizable as a TV than the more traditional box with rabbit-ears (which doesn’t mean anything to younger people).
  • Understandability across cultures  – For example, many cultures don’t understand the old-fashioned US mailbox or telephone icons; better to use more common stylized versions.  Never use hand symbols in icons!  They’re bound to be offensive in at least one country or culture (most likely a Mediterranean-bordering nation).  Things like “OK”, happy face, frowny face, etc are much better.  Red circle with a diagonal slash is universally accepted as meaning no or incorrect or prohibited.

And finally, some good sources for icons: