Usability Begins At Home

As some of you may know, I have a muti-faceted identity: I have an awesome day job; I’m a prolific blogger (really?), I’m writing a book; and I have a wonderful family. Of course, it’s easy to forget that all of these facets co-exist, and that not everything stays put within its original context.

Well, the other night, I was talking to my wife (who works in the softwear industry) about the chapter in my faceted search book that addresses user interface design challenges. Specifically, one of the concerns is how to most effectively implement a search box on a site that uses faceted search. There are, of course, a variety of decisions about default behavior and options for configuring alternative behavior. But I did make a strong admonition: including more than one search box on the site will confuse users.

The following day, she sent me an email:

Hey smarty pants.

Am I mistaken, or do I see TWO search boxes on The Noisy Channel?

Ouch. After I’d gotten over the shock that my wife not only pays attention to my rambling but also reads my blog, it took me a moment to realize what she meant–the PostRank widget has its own search box. And it actually has different search behavior than the search box that is built in to WordPress. For example, a search for don’t know using the WordPress-supplied search box returns over six pages of results, while entering these words into the widget (at least prior to this post) leads to “No posts found.”  Moreover, while the result ranking from the WordPress search is strictly by recency, the result ranking on the widget is based on engagement metrics (see the recent discussion on Twitter).

Since I can’t afford to run a formal usability test, I offer the question to you, my readers: are the two search boxes confusing? Have you ever even noticed them before? And now that you’re aware of them, would you recommend I make any changes to the site? Please bear in mind that I probably cannot customize either widget–I’m just a lazy blogger and use the best parts I can get off the shelf.

Also, my wife has graciously offered a discount on her employer’s wares (wears?) to Noisy Channel readers. Go to the Carole Hochman site and use noisy as a promo code to get 40% off of any non-sale items. The discount expires on May 10th. For the calendar-impaired, that’s Mother’s Day. 🙂

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

6 replies on “Usability Begins At Home”

The following should not be construed as a rant against your web site design, mostly because I don’t think search is that important a component of this blog. (But I could be wrong on this.)

My guess is that your two search boxes are OK, considering that neither one is particularly easy to spot. One of the things about search boxes, is that people tend to have a strong sense of where they are to be found on the page (i.e., somewhere in the header). The green text doesn’t help either — makes it look like another one of those thingies you’ve got in the right margin.

So if you know where to look, you’re OK, if you don’t, it probably doesn’t matter because using Google/Yahoo to search your site is probably better anyway.

For sites where search matters, there should be a clear site search box, but if there are add-ins with their own look and feel (e.g., Top Posts) they can carry their own integrated search without confusing the user. As long as there is clear visual segregation, your “one search box” injunction should apply to each component.

My guess is that with faceted search, things get tricky if you want to inherit some context into your search. But now we’re clearly in speculation land, and I’d better stop.


I’m actually quite open to feedback to improve the site design–though of course it’s most helpful when it’s constructive and pragmatic, given that I try to minimize the IT aspects of my work on this blog.

You’re probably right that people don’t use the search box much–in fact, I suspect most search that do occur are because I leave them around the blogosphere as links, e.g., this search for Gene Golovchinsky.

I have thought of trying to make the main search box more visible, if that’s easy to do for the Cutline theme. Sounds like that would be a good idea.


Good point, over-investing in the site itself is probably not a great idea. A pity some of the features, like the similar posts widget, don’t show up to RSS readers. And you only see comments when you click through–I find that particularly annoying when I’m reading blogs through RSS.


I hear you about the overinvesting given the propensity of your readers (even the digital communications ones!) to use RSS — but I occasionally click through from Tweetdeck. But would a little color kill you? ; )

— Perry


A little color? This isn’t related to the vicious rumor that I wore all black during my first four years at Endeca, right?

I’m quite open to sprucing up the design; I’m just not particularly talented as a designer. I pretty much installed the Cutline theme as is. I’ll happily give write access to the site to anyone who volunteers to improve it. Indeed, I am still grateful to David Fauth for helping me migrate from Blogger several months ago!


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