Review: Search User Interfaces

The book, Search User Interfaces (CUP) was published in autumn 2009, and is written by Marti A. Hearst, professor at University of California, Berkeley, who has done research on search user interfaces for 15 years. It would make an excellent addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in search and navigation design.

It was thanks to Nils that I found out about it, and I think both of us have a copy now. I haven’t read mine cover-to-cover, preferring instead to dip in and out, reading various sections or whole chapters as required.

I got my copy at the Cambridge University Press (CUP) shop in Cambridge, but it also available on Amazon.

Even better… in an effort to maximise the impact of her writing, Hearst was able to convince CUP to allow her to also make the book available for free, in HTML format, on her website, so you can check it out there, too. This means you can also electronically search the book, which is really handy. I have found myself using both the hardcopy and the online copy.

A short review

Although it is really an academic textbook in many ways, it is still very readable, with a wealth of well-researched and well-referenced information on all aspects of search interface design and structure. I think it is that broad range of examples and sources that really makes it such a good book, and all this is drawn together very nicely by an author who is clearly expert in the field.

The intended audience are industry professionals who are designing systems that use search interfaces as well as graduate students and academic researchers who investigate information systems.

Broadly speaking, the first three chapters (12 in all) look at interface design in general, and then with more focus on search interfaces in particular. Chapters 4 – 6 discuss queries and presentation of results, and the remaining six chapters cover a variety of advanced topics, including things like information visualization, personalization, and future directions.

So far, I have really concentrated on the query and results chapters, and chapter 8, “Integrating Navigation with Search”, simply because these are most relevant to what I am thinking about at the moment. They are really in-depth, and I am discovering a lot about an area of interface design that I think is often overlooked.

We all know how to use Google, right? So that means that any other search facility will be as easy to use… er… not quite. It is easy to make assumptions about search interfaces (and especially results pages and navigation!) and their relative usability, and to ignore principles of user experience design.

Search User Interfaces does a great job of bringing the best practices of design and information architecture to bear on the issues of the specific but very important area of interface design. To have a book which deals with what is such a crucial area for so many websites is very valuable.

All-in-all, it succeeds in being an authoritative and approachable resource to which I am sure I will return many times.


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