Mental models of search

The usually interesting Jackob Nielsen's current alertbox is about mental models of search:

Search is such a prominent part of the Web user experience that users have developed a firm mental model for how it's supposed to work. Users expect search to have three components:

  • A box where they can type words
  • A button labeled "search" that they click to run the search
  • A list of top results that's linear, prioritized, and appears on a new page -- the search engine results page (SERP)
[Mental Models For Search Are Getting Firmer (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)]
He goes on to suggest that departing from this mental model causes confusion. He also suggests that 'parametric searching', where one searches for something based on several attributes of the thing sought, is best not labelled 'search', because this does not fit the mental model.

Comments: 1

May 11, 2005
Dorothea Salo

Well, we certainly can't put "parameterize!" on a button...

On reflection, though, I'm tempted to hand this one to Nielsen, because it wouldn't hurt us at all to distance our offerings from the one-box mode. Possibly "match" is a worthy contender for that button, because "matching" things has a completely different mental model than "searching for" things. One typically matches based on several attributes of the things matched, whereas a successful search can hone in on a single attribute only.