Designing an enterprise search interface that employees will use on their intranet is challenging in any circumstance. But starting from nothing more than verbal comments or even a written specification is really hard. However, conversations about what is needed and wanted are informative because they can be aggregated to form the basis for the overarching design.
Frequently, enterprise stakeholders will reference a commercial web site they like or even search tools within social sites. These are a great starting point for a designer to explore. It makes a lot of sense to visit scores of sites that are publicly accessible or sites where you have an account and navigate around to see how they handle various design elements.
To start, look at:
- How easy is it to find a search box?
- Is there an option to do advanced searches (Boolean or parametric searching)?
- Is there a navigation option to traverse a taxonomy of terms?
- Is there a “help” option with relevant examples for doing different kinds of searches?
- What happens when you search for a word that has several spellings or synonyms, a phrase (with or without quotes), a phrase with the word and in it, a numeral, or a date?
- How are results displayed: what information is included, what is the order of the results and can you change them? Can you manipulate results or search within the set?
- Is the interface uncluttered and easily understood?
The point of this list of questions is that you can use it to build a set of criteria for designing what your enterprise will use and adopt, enthusiastically. But this is only a beginning. By actually visiting many sites outside your enterprise, you will find features that you never thought to include or aggravations that you will surely want to avoid. From these experiences on external sites, you can build up a good list of what is important to include or banish from your design.
When you find sites that you think are exemplary, ask key stakeholders to visit them and give you their feedback, preferences and dislikes. Particularly, you want to note what confuses them or enthusiastic comments about what excites them.
This post originated because several press notices in the past month brought to my attention Web applications that have sophisticated and very specialized search applications. I think they can provide terrific ideas for the enterprise search design team and also be used to demonstrate to your internal users just what is possible.
Check out these applications and articles: on KNovel, particularly this KNovel page; ThomasNet; EBSCOHost mentioned in this article about the “deep Web.”. All these applications reveal superior search capabilities, have long track records, and are already used by enterprises every day. Because they are already successful in the enterprise, some by subscription, they are worth a second look as examples of how to approach your enterprise’s search interface design.
Good list. What resources (online or print) do you recommend that codify these and other enterprise search best practices?
Thanks for the comment. I have to confess that this is an approach that has evolved for me over the years working on various content management, taxonomy and knowledge management projects for enterprises. I am not sure that others have written with similar guidance but it certainly gets clients talking about honest likes and dislikes in interface design, so I keep up the practice. Often, while engaging stakeholders to gather information in a knowledge audit, I get them to talk about where they go for information on work related topics, what their favorite Web sites are and why. This begins the dialogue and then, after doing some research, I try to come back with suggestions for other sites that they might find useful. I learn a lot from sites they suggest and this seems to be a comfortable approach to continuing a discussion that benefits both of us.