To sort or not to sort

21 Feb 2005 - 12:18pm
9 years ago
6 replies
721 reads
FelcanSmith, Mark
2004

I'm reviewing designs for a search feature. My question is regarding the
search results...the design has the results coming back in a table/grid
format. Columns contain Title/Description, Subtype/Date, and File Type.

I initially was reviewing the wireframes for consistency w/ the
application this feature will be integrated with, and not necessarily at
the context of use of this feature. I came back w/ a recommendation to
include sortability on the results table. Now I'm questioning whether or
not that is really a useful feature.

Based on relevancy is how the results are displayed currently...given
that model, does the ability to sort on the results provide any
substantial value. Remember there is always cost involved in
development...weighing out the cost to develop the sort with the need
(perceived value) of the user.

I can see the benefit to being able to organize the collection that was
returned to me, sorted by Title (alpha) or by data
(descending/ascending), etc. Looking over the major search sites
however, none of them offer the ability to sort.

Thanks,
Mark

Comments

21 Feb 2005 - 1:04pm
Jack L. Moffett
2005

Well, Mark, this really depends on the context of use. If you're talking
about Google, there really isn't value in having sortable results, as the
variety of results doesn't allow for useful "columns" to sort by.

However, if your search feature is part of an app that deals with a specific
data type, it may be very useful. What are the tasks the users are trying to
accomplish with the results they are searching for? Does sorting allow them
to more easily find a specific item?

Best,
Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.690.2360 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

Questions about whether design
is necessary or affordable
are quite beside the point:
design is inevitable.

The alternative to good design
is bad design, not no design at all.

- Douglas Martin

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21 Feb 2005 - 2:29pm
FelcanSmith, Mark
2004

Jack L. Moffett wrote:

>... this really depends on the context of use.
This is exactly my situation...we both mentioned understanding context
of use for the users, obviously this is key, however I don't have
detailed information; working on getting in touch w/ our user group for
additional research.

>What are the tasks the users are trying to
>accomplish with the results they are searching for? Does sorting allow
them
>to more easily find a specific item?
This search is part of a knowledge management project roll-out. The
first app to receive the search feature is the one I'm referring to,
eventually it will roll-out to other apps as well.
The users will be searching for product information including forms,
rate sheets, prospectus info; as well as resources: job aids, training
materials, etc.

As I said, I see value in the ability to organize the results, I'm
curious if others have run into similar design scenarios.

-Mark

21 Feb 2005 - 3:01pm
ErikaOrrick
1969

Mark,

We have run into exactly the scenario you describe, and we do have
sortable columns. While we haven't done any studies, anecdotally the
users really like being able to resort their results by several relevant
factors.

We used clickable headers and arrows much like in the Windows detailed
folder view, since the users in question were windows-based (this search
is on an intranet), and we have had no problems with people figuring out
how to use the controls.

Erika

-----Original Message-----
From:
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[mailto:discuss-interactiondesigners.com-bounces at lists.interactiondesign
ers.com] On Behalf Of FelcanSmith, Mark
Sent: Monday, February 21, 2005 1:46 PM
To: Jack L. Moffett; Interaction Design
Subject: RE: [ID Discuss] To sort or not to sort

[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
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Jack L. Moffett wrote:

>... this really depends on the context of use.
This is exactly my situation...we both mentioned understanding context
of use for the users, obviously this is key, however I don't have
detailed information; working on getting in touch w/ our user group for
additional research.

>What are the tasks the users are trying to
>accomplish with the results they are searching for? Does sorting allow
them
>to more easily find a specific item?
This search is part of a knowledge management project roll-out. The
first app to receive the search feature is the one I'm referring to,
eventually it will roll-out to other apps as well.
The users will be searching for product information including forms,
rate sheets, prospectus info; as well as resources: job aids, training
materials, etc.

As I said, I see value in the ability to organize the results, I'm
curious if others have run into similar design scenarios.

-Mark

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21 Feb 2005 - 3:08pm
FelcanSmith, Mark
2004

Erika Orrick wrote:

>We used clickable headers and arrows much like in the Windows detailed
>folder view, since the users in question were windows-based (this
search
>is on an intranet), and we have had no problems with people figuring
out
>how to use the controls.

I'm interested in matching the users expected behavior...did any issues
come up w/ limitations on sorting? e.g. only the visible results versus
sorting the entire results collection?

By that I mean, let's say you're only displaying 1-20 of 100 items
found. Does your sort deal w/ all 100 items, or only the visible 20?
Ideally, you'd want to sort the full collection; 100. Our search engine
Verity, which I don't know much about, may not *nicely* handle a full
collection sort (paraphrased from a developer). That is, each portion of
the results set being displayed is grabbed only when a request is
initiated.

While being able to sort only on the visible results is useful in that
context, the concept model break downs if it's only supported on the
visible results...each Next 20 > link the user clicks on is back to
being sorted by relevancy, not their chosen attribute. I'm not sure what
happens if the user were to click on the Previous link, if in fact they
had already sorted that set.

-Mark

21 Feb 2005 - 3:22pm
Jack L. Moffett
2005

Mark wrote:
> I'm interested in matching the users expected behavior...did any issues
> come up w/ limitations on sorting? e.g. only the visible results versus
> sorting the entire results collection?

We very recently added pagination to our results list and had to deal with
this very issue. We decided that when sorting, the user's intent is to view
all items that relate, not just a subset that happen to be on the currently
viewed page. Based on this, we sort the entire set, and display the new
first page. However, I have not yet heard of any customer feedback on this
issue.

And back to your first question: we do have sorting (obviously), but we are
only returning one type of results with very specific columns for sorting.
In fact, we don't have relevance sorting, because it is useless for the type
of search the user is performing.

Best,
Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.690.2360 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

When I am working on a problem,
I never think about beauty.
I think only of how to solve the problem.

But when I have finished,
if the solution is not beautiful,
I know it is wrong.

- R. Buckminster Fuller

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21 Feb 2005 - 5:06pm
Robb.Beal at pe...
2005

Mark,

Is there a logical way to present the results in groups? Grouping can
often create lists that are small enough so that sorting becomes less
critical. When paired with the information hiding benefits of disclosure
triangles, it can make for a great user experience.

See this weblog post for additional details including a link to a
practical application in a feed reader,

http://www.usercreations.com/weblog/2004/01/17.html#a418

Best,
Robb Beal

Mark wrote on 02/21/2005 11:18:27 AM:

> I'm reviewing designs for a search feature. My question is regarding the
> search results...the design has the results coming back in a table/grid
> format. Columns contain Title/Description, Subtype/Date, and File Type.

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