Saturday, August 28, 2010

Can't Win 'Em All

I realize that this is based purely on anecdotal evidence, but it's my experience that a lot of the tools that UX people make for themselves are not the most usable things in the world. I'm not sure how universally true this is, but when I say this at IA/UX meetups, people seem to give one of those oh-gods-tell-me-about-it smiles while rolling their eyes, so it must be true enough.

Why? I honestly have no idea, but it's amusing nonetheless. Here's an example I found the other day while looking for jobs on the Interaction Design Association's website. I typed in "junior" as a keyword for the job search and was a little surprised about what I got back.
If "UX Director" is a junior position, I'm in a lot of trouble.
UX Director? Senior Interactive Designer? How did that come up in a search for junior positions?
Had they written "junior candidates dare not apply", this job still would've shown up.
Ah, I see. This is actually a full text search. So why is the search called a "keyword" search? The Information Architect part of my brain associates keyword with metadata - I thought it was letting me search for what the document was about, not what the document contained. This is why Steve Krug says that the only two perfect labels for a full text search are "search" and "go."

But the problem is a bit deeper than a mislabeled search box. The information architecture is not as mature as it needs to be. See, to my way of thinking, when searching for jobs, searching metadata is what you want to do. Establishing a controlled vocabulary is almost impossible when your content is being produced by your user base and there's no editorial control over it, ergo it can be hard to ensure that full text searches are going to consistently return what the user is expecting (as happened to me). But, through the use of taxonomies and folksonomies, there can be a reasonable level of control over the metadata of the documents, allowing for the successful use of things like (wait for it) a keyword search. In my example, if the information architecture allowed for job posters to mark the seniority level of the positions in the posting, then I might have been more successful in searching for a junior position.

And, hey, did you notice that map?
"The location?" Did I miss the memo?
With x miles of the location? What location? Do you mean everywhere on the screen? Does that mean I can zoom all the way out, type in 100, and find UX jobs on the International Space Station? Sweet! You might think I'm making this up, but this is honestly how I thought it worked. Seriously. I zoomed all the way in on Seattle, moving the map this way and that, and then searched and was surprised that I was still getting jobs from San Fransisco and New York. Then, it clicked. Or, more specifically, I clicked. And then a little red dot appeared over the map. Oh. That's the location. Well, why didn't you say so?

Not to be a completely negative nancy, I do have to say that the RSS feed on the search results is kind of a nice touch. I'm not so sure I want to get results in my RSS reader in particular (I'd prefer to be notified by email), but I like that they considered that I might not find what I was looking for the first time and are attempting to save me the trouble of coming back and searching again.

What is all this mean? Getting the user experience right is hard work. Even when designing for an audience that we ought to know so very well, it can be hard to get it right. So, the next time you're using a website or a product and you're enjoying it, take a minute and thank the design and development team. Send 'em a note. Buy 'em a beer. Who knows? Maybe they'll do it again.

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