Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Search Patterns: Design for Discovery

Authors: Peter Morville and Jeffery Callender
Format: Paperback, 192 pages
Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1st edition (January 26, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0596802277
ISBN-13: 978-0596802271

Whether you think "search" is sexy or not, you probably can't live without it. In fact, according to the blurb on the book's back cover, "It (search) influences what we buy and where we go. It shapes how we learn and what we believe." That's a powerful statement, and probably more true than we realize (or we wish). While most of us experience search as users, Morville and Callender provide a practical guide that allows you to build your own search applications...but how good of a guide is it? I decided to find out (hence this review).

I'm a visual learner (who isn't) and this book fairly panders to my needs and desires as a student. The high quality glossy paper used in this book helps produce very slick and vivid graphics. The first page of the Preface even has a full color cartoon strip featuring the two authors, though Peter seemed to lack some "dimension" as a toon. I guess that's the difference between a graphic designer (Jeff) and an information architect (Peter).

Humor and personality wasn't limited just to the visuals of this book. The authors managed to project their personalities into their writing along with the technical aspects of search, right from page one. Search is immediately presented as a tool that needs to talk to and interact with human beings and adapt to who we are, rather than we adapting to the "needs" of an application.

Not only is this a fun book to read, but it is really useful, particularly in communicating about both the conceptual and nuts-and-bolts aspects of search design. A great deal of information about "usability" is leveraged in the creation of this book since, without users, search is without a purpose. The whole idea of building search is building for people.

This creation is so effective that as you travel more into the technical aspects of the book, you may not notice. I got a distinct sense of being pulled along, page after page as I was reading. I can't say that I completely absorbed every single detail as I progressed, but that's more an effect of my need to understand search design better rather than any fault of the authors.

For the beginner interested in learning how to build search, Search Patterns is an excellent introduction. Yet, the book was also written for designers and information architects (but not so much for developers as far as I can see) who need to learn more about not only the current state of search but its future implementation.

The only criticism I can offer is that the book seems to be the proverbial "a mile wide but an inch deep". It is an introduction, but it won't tell you all you need to know about designing search. This book will get you started and enhance whatever knowledge you may already possess, but once your appetite is whetted, you'll want more.


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