Last week I had the privilege of attending James Kalbach‘s course on Faceted Search & Beyond, held as part of Syntagm‘s UXFest (“like Oktoberfest, but without the beer… and it’s in February”). Yes, I’ll admit it… I was curious. After all, I’d been running a broadly similar tutorial for the last two years or so, covering the whole gamut of Designing the Search Experience but packed into one (intensive) half day session. How could James manage to spin out just the faceted search element to a whole day? This I had to see.
But I wasn’t disappointed. Like many complex design challenges, there is a fractal nature to them: beneath each major design decision (or principle) there is a myriad of smaller ones. And James very effectively surfaced the key ones in a lively, engaging, coherent style.
In particular, I liked the way he presented each section as a question, for example:
- Where should facets appear on the page?
- How should values be displayed?
- How do you see further values?
- How are values selected?
- How (and where) are selected facet values represented?
And so on.
Many of these are covered as separate posts his blog, but it was good to see them all drawn together in what became a very cohesive whole. He also made good use of the practical exercises. I know from experience that this can be very hard to get right, especially considering the wide range of backgrounds that courses such as this attract. If you make the exercises too focused on practical design skills some people will inevitably struggle (at least at first), but if you make them too abstract and conceptual and you lose the point of a face to face session and the co-learning experience it entails.
He also presented the material within the context of an overarching design process, i.e. framing it within the context of the typical stages, roles and tools applied in a commercial setting. Some of these mirrored to our own engagement models and processes within Endeca, but the places where they differed also provided interesting points for discussion. The course also benefited from numerous illustrations and examples – somewhat inevitably, dare I say it, drawn from a set characterised by Endeca implementations. James also did a commendable job of relating his material to the relevant peer-reviewed scientific literature (something at which the UX practitioner community has not traditionally excelled).
If I was to be uncharitable and point out one potential limitation it was that the course had a slightly “tactical” emphasis, focusing on the detail of individual on-page design decisions when some consideration of the broader strategic issues and overall experience might have provided a more rounded treatment. But I’m being really picky there, and besides, that would have made it a different tutorial.
So well done James – it was an excellent course and I thoroughtly enjoyed hearing your independent view. Now, let me get back to that proposal for a full-day course on Designing the Search Experience …