ASIS&T IA Summit 2003 "Making Connections"  
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Designing a Search Interface
Saturday, 530 - 6:00
Session One

Designing a Search Interface
Whitney Quesenbery

The most important connection an information architect makes is the one between visitors to a site and the information they are trying to find. One of the tools to make that connection is search, and all-too-often the search user interface is designed by the search engine, not by someone who understands what will actually help people find what they are searching for. This presentation looks at the problem of designing a useful and usable search interface by approaching it from the user’s point of view.

This work is based on a series of usability tests of search behavior with general consumer looking for health information on the web. This work was applied to a collection of web sites and is the basis of a plan for making connections an information architecture between the sites. I will be able to show screen shots of the sites we designed, but also the many sites that usability test participants visited, to show some of the problems we were trying to solve.

This presentation will define a simple model for the search process, looking at the design issues at each stage, and the design guidelines that emerged from observing users. The model and design guidelines can be generalized to any site (including smaller sites) where the focus of the site is the informational content.

The practical take-aways are guidelines and design patterns that the audience can use immediately. The learning is an approach that can be applied to investigating the users of their own sites, and a connection to some of the more formal research in the field (such as a powerful affirmation of Bates’ berry picking theory of information retrieval).

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