Squeaky Clean

I just finished reading a very interesting interiew on Seach Engine Land with Marrisa Mayer about the user experience when searching Google.

Probably the most important thing the interview covered was how clean the Google search and search results pages are. There is very little clutter to distract from the search results and that really helps users in quickly identifying which results they want to look at.

What is really interesting about this is that this mirrors almost exactly the comments coming back from users of the ScienceServer system I developed back in 1995. This system allowed users to browse and search electronic journal collections. What I strived for when I built the system was to make sure that only the information needed was presented to the user, keeping the user interface sparce and clean. I also made sure that everything needed for navigation was above the fold, and repeated below the fold too, and there where no graphics either, just hairlines (no boxes) to delineate navigational links from the information presented. Another comment I got back was that how good it was that the URLs used were consistent which allowed bookmarking, something I did out of convenience for myself more than anything else.

The next most important thing in the interview is how good users are at tuning out extraneous stuff on pages. Things that do not bear any direct relevance to the task at hand (searching) are simply tuned out, usually without the user noticing that they are even doing that. A long time ago, I took a Human Computer Interaction class from Joy Mountford and she showed us just how much we were tuning out from the computer as we went about our tasks, it was quite a revelation.

Finally Marrisa Mayer makes the point that disambiguating searches is really hard to do based on two or three search terms. Even product names, terms, numbers are ambiguous. The point is made that some amount of disambiguation can be done if there is more context available, which could be user location, search history, etc… But typically the user has to be presented with a number of possible choices to elicit disambiguation and that is always difficult because it is just another thing that gets between the user and the information they are seeking.

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