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Helping Users Find Their Own Way: Creating Modern Search Experiences

Helping Users Find Their Own Way: Creating Modern Search Experiences

Google changed user expectations about how search should work, and voice platforms like Alexa are changing mental models again. It's time to modernize our search experiences to meet the user needs of today and tomorrow. This session will discuss 8 key principles of modern search experiences. Then, building on the NPR's own experience in re-platforming its cross-platform search service, this session will explore how to apply those principles to the web, mobile, voice platforms, and beyond.

You'll leave this session with a better understanding of:
- The fundamental expectations and mental models about "search" that your users are bringing with them when they use your system.
- The limitations of machine learning and the essential role that human judgement and high-fidelity metadata play in crafting great search experiences.
- The value of domain expertise in crafting bespoke search-based experiences that are specific to your industry, content, and audience.
- The forthcoming metadata and filtering challenges posed by emerging platforms like voice assistants and AR/VR—and some potential steps you can take today to better "futureproof" your search indexes.

Search helps us discover content we care about and is an escape hatch when navigation has failed us—and by taking cues from Google and Alexa (among others), we can craft new search experiences that are much more responsive to our users' needs.


Dan Newman

May 18, 2020


  1. Helping Users Find Their Own Way: Creating Modern Search Experiences

    Dan Newman Director of Product Design, NPR @creativenewman Allison Shelley/NPR
  2. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  3. @creativenewman #Confab2020 From the archives: Talk of the Nation July

    16, 1999 Allison Shelley/NPR
  4. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Think about the last time you
 searched for

    something online...
  5. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  6. @creativenewman #Confab2020 The specifics may change,
 but core user needs

 remarkably consistent.
  7. @creativenewman #Confab2020 “Search lets users control their own destiny and

    assert independence from websites' attempt to direct how they use the web. Search is also users' escape hatch when they are stuck in navigation.” 
 -Jakob Nielsen, May 2001 bit.ly/nngsearch Nielsen Norman Group
  8. @creativenewman #Confab2020 • Search helps when you have too much

    information to browse • Search helps fragmented sites • Search is a learning tool • Search should be there because
 users expect it to be there • Search can tame dynamism
  9. @creativenewman #Confab2020 “As the choice of first resort for many

    users and tasks, search is a defining element of the user experience… Unfortunately, it’s also the source of endless frustration. Search is the worst usability problem on the Web.”
  10. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  11. @creativenewman #Confab2020 PART ONE: Eight Considerations for
 Modern Search Experiences

  12. @creativenewman #Confab2020 1 Modern search attempts to
 provide answers, not

  13. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  14. @creativenewman #Confab2020 GOOGLE NEWS YOUTUBE KNOWLEDGE GRAPH

  15. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  16. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  17. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  18. @creativenewman #Confab2020 2 Modern search is
 implicit in the experience.

  19. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  20. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  21. @creativenewman #Confab2020 3 Modern search is

  22. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  23. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  24. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  25. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  26. @creativenewman #Confab2020 4 Modern search handles
 divergent use cases.

  27. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  28. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  29. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  30. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  31. @creativenewman #Confab2020 5 Modern search is built on
 high-quality metadata.

  32. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  33. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  34. @creativenewman #Confab2020 (…metadata that is
 meaningful to your users.)

  35. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  36. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  37. @creativenewman #Confab2020 “A Taxonomist, a Software Engineer, and a UX

    Researcher Walk
 Into a Bar: Bridging AI and User Experience Methods at Etsy“ Gio Kincade, Jenny Benevento, & Jill Fruchter, IA Summit 2017 bit.ly/etsyias17
  38. @creativenewman #Confab2020 “A Taxonomist, a Software Engineer, and a UX

    Researcher Walk
 Into a Bar: Bridging AI and User Experience Methods at Etsy“ Gio Kincade, Jenny Benevento, & Jill Fruchter, IA Summit 2017 bit.ly/etsyias17
  39. @creativenewman #Confab2020 6 Modern search helps
 guides users to success.

  40. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  41. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  42. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  43. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  44. @creativenewman #Confab2020 (“What can I ask?”)

  45. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  46. @creativenewman #Confab2020

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  48. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  49. @creativenewman #Confab2020 7 Modern search adapts
 to all form factors.

  50. @creativenewman #Confab2020 “Think with Google: In-App Search“ bit.ly/google-in-app • Make

    heavier use of auto- complete / type-ahead • Minimize complicated filtering, faceting, and sorting controls • Carefully evaluate the presented metadata
  51. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  52. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  53. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Andres Urena/Unsplash

  54. @creativenewman #Confab2020 8 Modern search usually
 requires human curation.

  55. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  56. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  57. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  58. @creativenewman #Confab2020 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

    Modern search… … is implicit in the experience. … attempts to provide answers, not choices. … is contextually-aware. … handles divergent
 use cases. … helps guide users
 to success. … is built on high-
 quality metadata. … adapts to all
 form factors. … usually requires
 human curation.
  59. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Modern search requires you to actually care about

    your users.
  60. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  61. @creativenewman #Confab2020 PART TWO: Building a Modern Search Experience at

  62. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  63. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  64. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  65. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  66. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  67. @creativenewman #Confab2020 User expectations have changed. We need to change

    with them.
  68. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  69. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  70. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  71. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  72. @creativenewman #Confab2020 And this is just the beginning.

  73. @creativenewman #Confab2020 How do you know
 if it’s working?

  74. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Does it pass the sniff test?

  75. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  76. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  77. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Listen to your users.

  78. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  79. @creativenewman #Confab2020 How’s it going now?

  80. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  81. @creativenewman #Confab2020 PART THREE: What Comes Next?

  82. @creativenewman #Confab2020

  83. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Machine Learning:
 It’s not coming to save us

    Allison Shelley/NPR
  84. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Voice UI: Answers instead of choices Eric Lee/NPR

  85. @creativenewman #Confab2020 No facets, no filters,
 limited refinements.

  86. @creativenewman #Confab2020 What choices do we really
 need our user

    to make?
  87. @creativenewman #Confab2020 A high premium on precision,
 and low tolerance

    for weak results.
  88. @creativenewman #Confab2020 AR/VR: Inputless querying Photo: NPR

  89. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Traditional search is “user inputs text”. 

    search is “user says something that
 turns into text (hopefully correctly)”. 
 AR/VR search might be “user looks at
 something; we implicitly turn that action
 into an intent that we turn into text”.
  90. @creativenewman #Confab2020 IN CONCLUSION: Some Key Takeaways

  91. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Work to understand user intent. (That probably means

    talking to your users.)
  92. @creativenewman #Confab2020 You know your content
 better than Google does.

  93. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Refine your results.
 Test in context.

  94. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Search is a verb, not a noun.

  95. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Don’t forget that this still matters.

  96. @creativenewman #Confab2020 Nina Totenberg
 NPR “Founding Mother” and
 Legal Affairs

  97. @creativenewman #Confab2020 An article based on this talk is

    now at bit.ly/npr-search Dan Newman Director of Product Design @creativenewman dnewman@npr.org
  98. @creativenewman #Confab2020