So, I (along with the rest of the Blogosphere) have been checking out Sphere since it launched yesterday. Sphere is the latest in a growing range of blog search engines. (I’m also waiting for Gnoos to launch – we’re just days away apparently from having an Australian blog search engine.)
My initial thoughts? I don’t like it. (But only because I’m miffed that my blog doesn’t show up in their search results at the moment.)
Seriously, I’m always interested to see a product that Adaptive Path have launched. Say what you like, but these guys are thoughtful designers. And this time around they’ve exposed the thought process they’ve gone through, which makes it all the more interesting.
So, from a design/user experience perspective, here’s what I’m thinking:
How hard was *this* to find!! Very. And I was looking for it!
I’d seen their ‘nifty interactive graph’ from screenshots all over the blogosphere, but couldn’t for the *life* of me find it on Sphere. Even after I’d gone and read the instructions.Eventually, there it was. Hidden down the bottom of the dropdown.
Doesn’t that seem a little silly. Design a cool little interactive timeline, then hide it.
(Or am I the only goose who struggled to find it? Majority rules.)
Here’s the Adaptive Path rationale:
It may have been a cool feature, but we had to consider its value to average users versus its capacity to distract. Ultimately we decided that the module would require a trigger instead of displaying by default on the page load. For the sake of advanced users, for whom the slider would be most valuable, we wanted the trigger to require only a single click. We also wanted the slider to be discoverable, but not obvious.
We found that tying our trigger to a “custom date range” option in the filter gave us an equitable solution to all of our design problems. It’s not overt, and though mapping a pull-down option to a non-standard event breaks a few UI conventions, it felt right for what we were trying to build.
Fair enough, I guess…. for me, mapping the pull-down option to a non-standard event didn’t work. It didn’t cross my mind to look there for that kind of functionality, it doesn’t fit with the other filter options in the pull down.
If I weren’t looking for that feature and selected ‘custom range’ I would have expected entirely different behaviour. It’s possible I’d be pissed off at having to wait for the histogram to load so I could see what it was. (Yes, it takes some time to load, although I’m v. impatient).
If it were up to me, I would have presented the histogram as a whole separate display option. Probably as a button. Not as part of the sentence of dropdowns.
What do you think?
Sentence of dropdowns
Just briefly – I quite like this approach. It’s kind of conversational, I think users respond well to it. (This user does!).
Adaptive Path says:
we followed the example set by the FogBugz bug tracking software. I’m a tremendous fan of the sentence-based filter interface they use to help users pare down huge bug lists. With their interface as a reference, we put together a simple, powerful interface for filtering search results.
A single sentence at the top of each page uses plain English to tell the user what’s displayed below. Each word or phrase in that sentence is editable with just a click, and each change filters the results that follow. The screen isn’t crowded with multiple options; instead they become visible only when suited to the user’s task at hand.
I have seen one *bad* implementation of it on the Montreal Tourism site. Bad mostly because the dropdowns load SOOOO slowly. Or the just stop working. I lose patience with that well before I finish my sentence.
Performance people. It counts.
Orange – when I first saw the orange search button on the Sphere homepage I commented: ‘that’s such a 2.0 Orange’.
Reflecting on that reaction, I realised that it was because of the RSS/XML icon that has been taken up across so many 2.0 sites. So then I found it pretty amusing to get to the results page to find that I was wrong.
This, in fact, was NOT 2.o Orange! Because there right next to it was the RSS icon – an ever so slightly different shade of orange. Perhaps this is a sign of 2.0 maturity, we need two shades of orange. 2.0 Orange and RSS Orange. ;)
Petty, I know. I just mention it because it was the *first* comments I had on the design. (I know. I’m a dork).
What actually bothers me is the alignment of the RSS line to the search field in the header. It looks a little off to me. And I don’t get why the search button gets a nice image treatment and the RSS image doesn’t.
It just looks a little untidy. A little unpolished. I think that’s my general takehome on this design… It’s just not quite as polished as what I’ve come to expect from Adaptive Path. That green bar towards the top… murky, not clean. That logo…? (well, that’s probably not Adaptive Path’s work, but I’m not loving it. It looks kind of dangerous-like-a-chainsaw!
I *do* like the way they’ve presented the search results though. And I think the profiles are very clever and nicely displayed. If you search on something with plenty of content, the Related Media page is also very impressive.
What’s this about stylistic perils?
I wonder what else Adaptive Path are going to do with this Histogram. It always kind of worries me when agencies ‘borrow’ a solution from one product to the next (in this case, from MeasureMap to Sphere). Especially such a high profile and novel UI element. I’m interested that MeasureMap let them do it (they must have good IP negotiators over there!). I think it’s a dangerous path to go down though… it starts to make an agency look ‘cookie cutter’, like you can *tell* the agency who did the design because they have a style. (Like Happy Cog. Love their work, but you can pick it a mile off… to me, that’s not quite right.)
Anyways. That’s probably quite enough of me criticising people who I’d actually be honoured to work with.
[...] so, i’m having a bit of a play around with some of the new and not so new blog search engine offerings. There are lots of ways to compare them, but I’m just going to start with one. How long does it take before a blog post is indexed and searchable. [...]
[...] Sphere has been released for a bit now, and its gotten some decent reviews [here’s one, thanks Jack], and some well considered criticism as well. Dan [read his book excerpt!] brought a particular post to my attention, so I’ll point you to it. [...]
My name is Leisa Reichelt. I am the Head of User Research at the Government Digital Service in the Cabinet Office.
I lead a team of great researchers who work in agile, multidisciplinary digital teams to help continuously connect the people who design products with the people who will use them and support experimentation and ongoing learning in product design.
If you're interested in working with me or would like to talk more please email me