The SpoolCast with Jared Spool

The SpoolCast has been bringing UX learning to designers’ ears around the world since 2005. Dozens and dozens of hours of Jared Spool interviewing some of the greatest minds in design are available for you to explore.

Episode #91 Leveraging Search Patterns & Discovery with Peter Morville

February 5, 2010  ·  37 minutes

Listen Now

Download the MP3

In this podcast, Jared Spool sits down with Peter Morville to answer many excellent questions from the recent Leveraging Search and Discovery Patterns virtual seminar. Even if you did not attend, there's a lot of great information in this podcast.

Show Notes

Peter Morville is the co-presenter of one of our most popular UIE Virtual Seminars of all time, Leverage Search and Discovery Patterns. As is often the case, our audience came up with a heap of thoughtful questions, which we decided to break up into two podcasts. This is the first, and the second will feature Peter's co-presenter Mark Burrell answering even more of your questions. Even if you did not attend, there's a lot of great information in these podcasts.

In this episode, Jared Spool sits down with Peter to address many issues, including an interesting notion that Peter mentioned in the seminar;

"Browsing doesn't scale."

This came up in discussion about whether a site needs to be optimized towards search or towards browsing. Peter said that the two are all-but inseparable. The idea was that for very large sites, there comes a limit to how deep you can patiently navigate to reach the information you're looking for. In these cases, many users would start their journey with a search, and then navigate from the results. An example of this use case can be seen with how many people use Their visit to the immense site may start with a search for a particular product, author or artist, and then begin to navigate from their initial search results.

Best Result First Pattern

Another topic that proved popular was Peter's Best Result First pattern. It may seem obvious that you want the best search result for a query to appear first in the results, but achieving that is not particularly easy. Peter suggests that it takes iterative tuning and testing while tweaking relevance algorithms, but then also pulling in other factors like popularity, date, and format data.

Advanced Search

Several attendees had questions about "advanced search." Should it be built into sites to assist novice users sort through results better or to help sophisticated users dig more deeply? Others questioned if the notion of "advanced search" was dead altogether.

Peter replied that advanced search wasn't dead, though many might wish it so. He observed that advanced search often causes confusion among users and many of these interfaces and options overwhelm them. He says you should design your search as if there would be no advanced search at all. One innovative way to give more control to searchers is to present search results with faceted navigation. This way advanced and novices users alike can have an understandable tool to filter through their results.

Faceted Navigation within Search Results

Not all sites work well with facets. If you have your doubts, you need to measure the use of the facets and see if they're leading to success. However, it's difficult to determine the success of the facets because trouble could mean either their implementation was done poorly, or that facets simply aren't a good match for your site.

There was much more in this interview, and I invite you to tune in to get more great insight from Peter and Jared. And check back shortly for the second podcast interview for this seminar, with Mark Burrell. And don't forget, you can still access the recording of the Leveraging Search & Discovery Patterns seminar if you haven't yet seen it.

What challenges are you facing with search on your site?