January 13, 1999
Maintaining Search Context
or, "NOT QUITE RIGHT?"
When we were designing paper greeting card store Sparks.com at Phoenix-Pop, the site was, to a large degree,
designed around its search engine. In researching search engine design, it became clear that one key area has been
overlooked--what happens after you click on a link in your search results.
Typically, you get taken to the destination page, and if you decide you need to look at other results, you end
up having to go Back and forth from the results list to destination pages.
This to and fro was unacceptable, because when purchasing greeting cards (or any number of products now sold through
e-commerce), browsing is necessary. You want to look at a number of choices before making the final decision. And
in order to successfully browse, you need to maintain the context of your search, so you know what you've seen
and what's ahead of you.
Our solution was to have your search results follow you. So, you head to Sparks.com. You enter the search query
"funny Valentine." On the results page, you click on the South Park "Eeew!" thumbnail.
You view the card, and decide you want to keep looking. Instead of having to click "Back", you simply
go to the "NOT QUITE RIGHT?" area, which allows you to page through your results.
A way to conceptualize this is that, when clicking on a search result, you're
zooming in to that card, but still see nearby results in your periphery. This not only maintains context, it provides
a manner by which to quickly move through your results.
Because this solution is so simple, I wouldn't crow about it except for the fact that no other site does this.
I consider it our small UI victory, where design and engineering worked together to develop a good solution to
a very real problem, and, I think, provide an evolutionary baby step in the design of Web site searching.
This piece was spurred by a presentation I attended last
night at BayCHI, which focused on the design of 1. search engine query interfaces and 2. results pages. While useful,
it frustrated me that the discussion didn't go beyond those two pages. Search engines are integral to the
success of sites, and should be integrated throughout.