Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011
Search is a fundamental part of nearly every ecommerce site, yet surprisingly little literature can be found on the topic. Greg Nudelman has helped fill this gap with his new book, Designing Search released earlier this year. In it, Nudelman, founder of the research and design firm DesignCaffeine, gives practical advice and useful insights into how people use search on ecommerce sites, both in and out of the home, backing up his claims with solid research from within labs and observations from the field.
Designing Search opens strong, dolling out clear, actionable insights into search habits of users that are of immediate value to anyone designing search features for a site. Starting from what he describes as “zero” (a search results page with no matches found), Nudelman gives wonderful insight into how to construct search functionality that maximizes the discoverability of products and to help customers find what they are looking for. Nudelman deftly justifies his assertions with examples drawn from his considerable time observing users’ behavior. Nudelman even touches briefly on the topic of social search, though he offers little more on the topic that to proclaim it fertile ground for research.
Bravely, Nudelman attempts to address problems associated with mobile design, largely abandoning his central topic altogether and instead focusing on common problems he has observed in users. Though none of his observations are surprising to those of us who have worked closely with and observed actual users, they do serve as a great primer for anyone new to designing for a mobile platform. Nudelman suggests how best to improve upon the current design patterns, advocating for the adoption of less obtrusive design patterns for mobile experiences. While his solutions are in many ways an improvement over current patterns, designers need to consider if the potential improvement is greater than the costs associated with the adoption of a new design pattern. In some cases, improvements may only be incremental and change may result in disruption and rejection.
In contrast, Nudelman’s take on design for the iPad is spot on. Like his section on mobile, his discussion on designing for tablets is only loosely tied to the topic of search, but unlike mobile, Nudelman is completely on point. He addresses everything from current use cases and ergonomics (largely refuting Kevin Kelly’s vision of the future in which everyone carries a phone and a tablet), to future and innovative uses for the newborn platform. Anyone new to designing for tablets would do well to pick up a copy for that section alone.
Overall, Designing Search is a worthwhile read that occasionally shifts focus from search to include much broader topics and audiences. Nudelman has written Designing Search as much for interaction designers as for project managers and executives, and at times he offers insights into details interesting and familiar to designers, such as explaining eye tracking methods. Even with the occasional digression, Nudelman provides sufficient guidance into designing search and mobile experiences to make Designing Search a worthwhile reference.