IA Summit: The Future of Search

by April 11, 2010

At the IA Summit in Phoenix, AZ Peter Morville walked through the big picture and design patterns in search systems. Here's my notes form his talk: The Future of Search and Discovery:

  • Many sites have been built up over time as more and more content was added. Search is an important user experience tool for managing this complexity but it is also an important innovation that has changed the world.
  • There are many examples of search enhancements leading to significant increases in important goal-driven (finding) metrics. But search is also a process of discovery -it is a way we learn. Are we designing to help people learn as they move through the process?
  • Search is not just any one piece. It is a complex, adaptive system. As a result, it demands an obsessive attention to detail. We need to support progressive disclosure, incremental construction, direct manipulation, context of use, direct manipulation, and more. But we also need to be able to step back and look at the bigger picture. How do the various parts of the information seeking process interact?
  • Mobile and tv interfaces tend to optimize for browse because text input is hard. But as more content is made available on these devices, search will be more important.
  • Patterns that apply across different contexts can help us develop search strategies for a myriad of devices. We can look at behavioral patterns like narrow, expand, pearl growing, and thrashing. Or design patterns like auto-complete, auto suggest, and best first. Best first is perhaps the most important pattern in search because attention goes to the first set of results more than anywhere else.
  • Federated search is useful in certain contexts but is sometimes a symptom of a broader problem: data stored in different, separated systems. Users often don't know where to look for information when it has multiple front ends.
  • Faceted search can help people clarify and refine their search. Even Google is trying to provide faceted navigation for Web search. Amazon is an early leader in bringing faceted search to mobile.
  • Search results themselves can be actionable: you can play music, place orders, and even browse within a search results page.
  • One way to reframe search is to serve up answers not results. Or allow people to make decisions (hunch) or enable understanding (crimespotting.org).
  • We can change how we search through gestures, images, sound, and more. Multichannel systems need to have their capabilities aligned.
  • We are finally taking steps on creating links between physical objects and digital information. Augmented reality is still rude but the potential is obvious.
  • Search is a truly wicked problem. It requires collaboration between multiple disciplines. It is very much both a product and a process.