by Mark Burrell
Every UX designer working on faceted search and discovery applications faces a key challenge. How to present facets that instantly tell users:
- What’s available within the collection or information space?
- Which actions will help users meet their goals?
To meet this challenge, faceted user interfaces need to summarize the information space in a readily comprehensible way and provide clear “information scent” that guides users to action. Visual facet presentations could be helping much more than they are today.
Early presentations of faceted navigation back in the late 90’s often showed lists of hypertext links as the primary means of summarizing the information space, providing information scent, and inviting action.
Over the years, others have attempted to enrich and enhance faceted search and discovery by “envisioning information” and embedding visualizations within faceted interfaces. For example,Willet et all (2007) discussed the use of “scented widgets” that embed visualizations within graphical UI controls, such as range sliders with histograms (Also see ourRange Slider UI Design Pattern)
However, despite the value of visualizations, many search and faceted navigation interfaces continue to rely on primarily textual presentations and appear to pay limited attention to the visual aspects of the user interface. While textual presentations are obviously effective in many contexts (and readily accessible to the vast majority of users), in others they may inadvertently contribute to information overload and unnecessary cognitive work.