This case study explores the current state of digital search and presents possible solutions to problems people face. This personal design challenge was something that I wanted to take on after listening to collegues complain about their current experiences with search.
People rely on search engines for basic tasks such as finding directions; as well as use them to assist in more complex tasks such as exploring a new neighborhood or discovering new information. After using a product for so long, user have developed habits that allow them to best navigate using these search engines. This case study explores digital search and what work arounds could be implement to improve a process that has been in effect for decades.
The scope of this design challenge is a bit different than a standard “redesign” or ideating a solution from a new problem space; instead I am challenged with taking a system that has already been perfected throughout the years and understand what design changes could be made to make it a better experience.
After some quick brainstorming and questioning, I thought up the following HMW questions to guide my thoughts throughout the design process.
The first task of my research was to understand how individuals utilized and interacted with search engines. To do this, I created a quick survey that I distributed to friends, and additionally asked 5 friends to participate in quick interviews. Because the problem area, digital searches, is so broad, I felt comfortable simply asking friends who I knew have used search engines before and did not need to create a criteria for who I wanted to interview. The goal from these research methods were to:
After conducting the interviews, I placed the observations onto post-it notes and created an affinity diagram. This allowed me to visually identify commonalities between each interviewees search processes.
From the affinity diagram, I deduced 4 main insights about user interactions with digital search.
From the interviews that I conducted, I identified two primary use cases:
The current user flow makes the use case “searching for exploration” a very tedious task. It places the burden of remembering relevant webpages on the users. The current solutions to this are for users to either keep the tabs open indefinitely, or to bookmark the page. Additionally, having all the results listed on one page can leave users feeling overwhelmed; and because of their fear of missing out, they tend to open multiple results in different tabs all at once.
This design opportunity specifically targets the pain points regarding the “search for action” use case. Currently, previous search results can be accessed when users start typing in the query and is stylized in purple. Similarly, search results that have. The issue with this is that users don’t have context about the previously searched page, and don’t know if the page was relevant or not.
When looking at how users utilize bookmarks, it become apparent that bookmark organization is wholly tasked onto the user. Users often start off organized, but slowly degenerate: not because of laziness, but not sure how things should be organized. Additionally, the bookmarks page is oversaturated with results because people have a fear of missing out and are afraid that would rather save the webpage just in case. This results in a cluttered bookmarks page that is not revised particularly often.
After inputting a search query into a primary search engine such as Google Search or Bing Search, users will click on a result that leads them to a “secondary search engine” such as Amazon on Yelp and continue to sift through results on that webpage. Additionally, sometimes they may back track to the main search results page after using this secondary search for a while. There doesn’t seem to be a designated solution for this type of search pathway as of now.
With an understanding of where I can start making design changes, I started ideating and sketching possible solutions.
In terms of finding search results, I wanted to implement a way for users to quick screen search results for relevancy, and mark them in a way that they could easily revisit. The ideas that encompassed this goal were:
The goals of this design solution was to:
Easy toggle between general search, and specified search
The new search mechanism emphasizes quick decision making (as a key observation from the interviews was that users tend to spend between 30 secs to 2 minutes deciding if the webpage is relevant to them). The quick result sifting is supplemented with a save page that allows users to review their saved results at a later time and determine the best/ most relevant results.
The new search mechanism explained:
While testing the mid-fidelity prototypes, an interaction issue arose:
As a result, I ideated different potential save interactions based on other apps that I have used and made prototypes to see how well users interacted with them.
Mechanism 2: Button-Press
Mechanism 3: Tab-Drag
Mechanism 4: Side-Swipe
After additional testing, I deduced that mechanism 4 was the best interaction for users to use. The other two took up more screen real estate; whereas the side-swipe allowed for a browsing method users were familar with, and an unintrusive save/discard mechanism.
The focus when creating a way to access a secondary search engine was to implement it in a way that was unintrusive, yet still easy to understand and notice. The original sketches in the early ideation phase wanted to represent the secondary search engines as logo icons. Simple logo icons would be difficult to decipher, so in the mid-fidelity mock-ups I tried using the full name.
Somethings that I kept in mind while designing these screens were:
When designing the mock-ups for the search history, I wanted to utilize a folders system, as opposed to just having past search terms appear as users input text. Additionally, bookmarks are now designated as “search history” queries, but can further be personalized as folders with extended actions.
Some questions that were posed while designing these fidelity mocks were:
Through doing this case study, I was able to practice my user ethnography skills and apply them to the UX design process. Through my work on this concept app, I was able to take observations from interviews and user sessions and develop them into insights that were relevant in shaping the eventual design. Another learning experience that I took away from this case study was how to conduct testing for interaction design and understanding which interactions work best. A large struggle for this design case study was the visual design choices for the interface.