Every week the IxD (Interaction and User experience design) team at Fluid gets together and discusses new ideas, current trends in our field, best practices, design patterns and anything that we may have on our mind that relates to design.
This week Dave, Director of Information Design and Usability, challenged us to think about the following:
“I’ve been thinking about findability and discoverability (especially since I started thinking about interactive merchandising as casual gaming), and I am increasingly convinced that findability and discoverability are distinct attributes of web content, though I am not entirely clear yet (conceptually) where they are similar and where they overlap. Initially, it seems like this:
Discoverability – more about fun, content is “hidden” and meant to be found, the content is non-essential to the experience, finding the content may be surprising or unexpected, finding the content is often pleasing, tends to be more of an exploratory and individual/independent experience
Findability – more about usability, content is more likely to be important or essential to the experience, users may seek or need the content, content may not be immediately visible but is not hidden, easy to find, users probably guided to the content with labels and directions, tends to be more of guided or directive experience with help from the UI
I’d like your thoughts and ideas on this: “
The team’s response to Dave’s questions are listed below:
My knee-jerk reaction is that discoverability, while more pre-disposed to being fun, is inherently about learning and intuition. Findability need not be anti-fun, but it is inherently about efficiency and being clunk-you-over-the-head obvious.
Discoverability, at its core, should play off of previously learned behaviors and patterns of interaction. when I go to a new bar, I’m pretty sure the loo will be in the back, because that’s where it was in the last 100 bars I went to. Discoverability recognizes the frequency and need in which we rely off of our intuition. In doing so, we may learn a new task more easily if we are able to relate it to a previously learned task. When we recognize similarities, we feel at ease. We anticipate what comes next and finally we begin to recognize differences between the old and the new, again increasing our learning.
Findability, one might argue, exists–in the most extreme sense–in lieu of intuition. I’m not saying discoverability and findability are absolutely orthogonal, but there’s certainly an inclination. If one assumes that there are no similar, previously learned patterns, or one is lacking intuition, findability ensures that one can still complete the desired task. If I am a teetotaler and I’ve never been to a bar before, I might have no idea that the loo is usually in the back, but if I wander around and see the restroom signs that are clearly marked; I know I have found the loo. Findability is the “clunkingly obvious” factor.
In my examples above, I don’t mean to suggest that findability is boring, or can lack delight, fun, or, more importantly, persuasion. From a content perspective, the authoritative tone of brand and persuasion should probably be the most findable parts of a web site. I think persuasion might be more essential in findable content, whereas it is more easily a “nice by-product” of discoverable content.
What’s interesting in the storytelling article is that the author gives us a bunch of examples of storytelling, but I think she could have gone a bit further and gotten more granular.
For example, when I am designing a web page/site/interface, I think of the features on the page as characters in a story. Kind of like playing with Barbies, you grab a bunch of features, put ‘em together, throw ‘em around, and see how they interact with each other…then you place ‘em where they make the most sense in the arc of the story you’re trying to tell. Some features are main characters, some are supporting, and you’ve got to work with that. of course, the user is a character as well; i’m just sayin’, the user is not the *only* character.
The best example of this is Jones’ example about the benefit of unread content and the mini cooper web site. Jones mentions that mini creates credibility through the presence of its company history. let’s say that “features and specs” about the mini are a character and “company history” is a character…for the purposes of this story, “features and specs” are the main character, but “company history” is a supporting character, and “he” is still pretty important to have around. we might not pay a lot of attention to him, but his presence (here, findability) on the page lends credibility to the brand. Craft your story (and your interaction design) from there.
Since the subject has a lot to do with storytelling, I wrote this like I was telling a story.
“Choose Your Own Adventure: Findability vs. Discoverability”
It’s no longer enough for users to be able to find your site, and then find what they’re looking for once they’re there. Now, they have to enjoy the experience — and, if possible, participate in it.
It’s helpful to think of this in terms of two different types of users: the Finder and the Discoverer. The Finders know what they want and where they’re going. They may have already formed a mental map of how to get there, and a web site’s success may depend on its navigation and search matching the user’s expectations. Discoverers are less linear. They want to explore, and be entertained and surprised along the way. They may not know exactly what they’re looking for, but they feel it. For discoverers, it’s as much about the journey as the destination.
One way to think about how to engage both types of users is through use of the Story. At Fluid, we always try to use a narrative structure to explain our work and vision to the client. In essence, we try to keep the customer’s story as the guiding theme across all our deliverables and presentations. So, what kind of story are we going to tell the Finder versus the Discoverer?
Think of the Finder in terms of the shopping funnel. It’s a short story or a haiku. The Finder wants to get to the end as quickly and easily as possible. They want to get from point A on the home page to point D in the shopping cart, with brief stops at a category, index and detail page along the way. It’s hard to avoid the spatial metaphors, but it’s not just three-dimensional. Time is also a factor. The finder already knows what they want and doesn’t want waste a lot of time getting there.
In contrast, the Discoverer doesn’t want a short story, they want an open-ended Choose Your Own Adventure book, or maybe movies on demand. Instead of trying to speed them along a linear path, our goal is to keep them interested, and moving, as long as possible – until they realize they’ve come to the right place. The Discoverer is sticky and needs a sticky site. The Discoverer can be either passive, wanting to be entertained, or active, wanting to have more control over how they move through the site, and even interact with it. The Discoverer needs more lateral and contextual relations between content, and not just the basic linear site navigation.
While we’re on the subject of stories, user-generated content is a way for users to make themselves part of brand’s story. For example, user reviews are a way for customers to share their opinion of a site or a product. It’s a way for Discoverers to leave a sign that they were there.
One area where the Finder and Discoverer types may overlap is in social shopping. Just as many malls and stores aspire to be social spaces and not just a shopping destination, the Finder can become a Discoverer by bringing in a friend who may encourage them to look outside their original goal and try something new.
We need to design web sites that engage both types of users, and take into account that most users are a combination of the two. It’s not so much that these are different types of users, so much as they are different types of search strategies or behaviors. We need to give the right level and amount of content in the right time and place, with clear paths to more: more depth, more range, or more similar (moving up and down in granularity, or horizontally through relationships). The key seems to be choice: giving the user the ability to choose how they move through the site rather than forcing them into one path, but not so many choices that the user becomes paralyzed or lost.
The choice on which approach to emphasize will vary by client. I think findability is more important for large-scale retail sites, whereas discoverability is more important for brand sites.
First, a user’s browsing/searching behavior is never linear in nature. I don’t feel that the typical use case is that a user will come to a site looking for a specific very granular piece of information. Rather, I am more inclined to think of a user’s browsing behavior in regards to what some researchers are calling berrypicking”.
The “berrypicking” model has two main points. First, as a user searches for information they are constantly learning from their search/browse interaction and thus the nature of their search is constantly changing and adapting directly from the information they are discovering. Thus, through the process of browsing their search goals may be constantly changing from their initial intent. Originally a user may have been interested in findability and then upon reading something new, their goals may have changed to discoverability. (and vice versa.)
The second point is that a user’s informational needs are not satisfied solely through the finding of a set of documents or results. Rather, the main value of search exists in the accumulation of bits and pieces of information along the way. (i.e. Life is a Journey, not a destination) . This second point made me think about the design principle of providing alternative interfaces for both novice and expert users. It seems to me that a well designed interface should be able to support the needs of both findability and discoverability. Thus, as the users informational needs change a well designed interface will provide opportunities to dive deeper into a subject matter or discover a related item. I think a good example of providing an interface that is useful for both for novice and expert users is the TED home page. www.ted.com A user interested in finding a specific talk can reorganize the page using the list format or access the search box, while a user more interested in discoverability can browse the content by interacting with the images or browsing filters on the page.
In addition, I was thinking that the granularity of the information being presented is directly correlated to findability and discoverability. I don’t necessarily think of discoverability as content that is “hidden” and meant to be found, but rather it is content that is more abstract in its presentation and subsistence. (i.e. A related item link, Or a short blur about sustainability with a link to learn more.) In addition, when I think of findability, I think of content that is more complete and concrete in nature. (i.e. product details page, a technology details page, or an article page).
Thus, as a user bounces back and forth between findability and discoverability, what changes is the level of abstraction of the information being presented. Low level of detailed information will lend its self to findability while high level of detail will lend itself to discoverability.