Design for Both Findability and Discoverability
Findability and discoverability sound “the same” but are actually different. Findability refers to if users are able to easily find the content they are looking for, which means, the user already has something in mind. Discoverability refers to if the platform is able to provide users with content that users might be interested, but they may not even know this type of content exists or has no previous knowledge about it.
With platforms become heavier and heavier, these two issues have become quite challenging; especially for discoverability. How many people have been complaining that they can hardly find a new video on Youtube? Compare to Youtube, Netflix has been doing much better by providing the top 10s, trending now, new releases, etc.
Online education platforms are changing the traditional ways of on-campus classroom experiences; students have more flexibility and more choices of contents. Which is great and yet also brings findability and discoverability challenges. In this article, I am going to use one of my projects, the redesign of Study.com to explain my opinions. Study.com definitely has a good domain name, however, I do think the site has some findability and discoverability issues.
1. Search (Findability)
Of course, search bar is still a quick and simple way for users to locate an item, but in a precondition, that they know the keywords to look for. Since Study.com is providing test prep content, k-12 and college courses; their users mostly should already has a purpose in mind, hence, the search bar should be very important for the users to find a subject or course content. At current Study.com site, the search bar always on the right top corner, which is easy to locate. Some pages also has a search bar at the bottom of the page, but no search within subcategories provided. When I try to type in some keyword, I also noticed that the related keywords displaying at the drop down seems nothing related, this should be improved. The hint and related keywords can save user typing efforts, can improve customer satisfaction.
In my proposed design wireframe, I put the search bar right in the center of the first screen of homepage, besides the right top bar. I also allow search within current sub-category. I have also used visual metaphor, and designed the search bar looks like an academic ribbon.
2. Index (Findability)
Indexing has been exist since the beginning of the internet and yet it is still a good way for users to find items through categories and then sub-categories, step by step goes deeper. It makes items well organized and also good for the users to locate them. For the case of Study.com, it will be great for students to find through the Educational level, subjects or targeted tests. Compare to the previous categories on Study.com, I have also made the hierarchical relationship clearer to the users.
3. Navigation (Finability)
Navigation menu helps to organize the links of the site, which provides an architecture of the pages, hence also helps users to find the right content or items. Navigation menus appear most commonly in page headers or sidebars, or footers. For this project, I made the header a simple menu, which just for plans and courses, the most important contents for target users, and other secondary items have been placed at the footer, e.g. about, support, social links, etc.
4. Path (Finability)
Website path let users understand where is the exact location of each page, file, or other asset, what is the relationship the current page/file with higher level pages/files and the whole site structure. The path shows users with the routes, directs users to choose the right path to locate a content. Sometimes we also call it breadcrumb, which allows the users to easily locate, easily enter or exit. Good designed, clearly defined path is also good for the site SEO.
5. Filtering (Findability)
Filters help users to refine their search, browsing or indexing results. Filters may be different based on the content. For example, if user are purchasing clothes, they can filter sizes, colors, material, designers, brands, origins, and so on. In this project, I also carefully designed the filters, which allow users to filter contents based on educational levels, goals, languages, if it has subtitles, quizzes, or other content features.
6. Sorting (Findability)
Sorting provides another dimension for users to quickly locate an item from the long list of search results, or browsing contents. Sorting is also helping to refine the findability, besides filters. In this case, I designed sorting for users to choose based on the newest updated, or the highest rated, or most popular viewed, and so on. If Study.com change its pricing model, we can also have price from high to low or low to high, etc.
7. Browse (Discoverability)
I would say, browsing is mainly for discoverability. However, there are many website using the so called machine learning, and provide similar content on the page for users to browse, based on their past searching/viewing history. On one hand, it is good to provide contents that users might be interested; on another hand, it also brought users into a trap and hard to discover fresh content, or information that the users had no previous knowledge, trapping users into a dead loop without outside the the box stuff.
For this project, since Study.com is mainly for purpose-driven K-12 and college students, or test prep people, I combined browsing with categories, e.g. goals and subjects, so users can quickly locate items, yet still can enjoy the joy of browsing lists of rich contents.
8. Recommendation (Discoverability)
Recommendation based on popularity, hot topics, or even combine with understanding of user profile, e.g. their age, grade, purpose, personal goals, can help users to discover more relative and interesting content. Peer activities, or related contents can also be used for recommendation. I also designed preference boxes, which remember and show users’ previous selection of preferences, user can delete or modify them. These editable preference boxes give user much more control and flexibility, so they do not need to suffer as what they have experienced at sites like Youtube, which they have no control and totally up to whatever the site robot has decided on what content would be provided.
9. Featuring (Discoverability)
Featured contents also enhance discoverability. Featured content is highlighted content from the site, and normally is placed prominently. Even featured content can vary based on different user who is visiting the site.
In this project, I have also designed the featured content area like an opened book, which is also a metaphor, enhancing the brand image of Study.com. Featuring of course is also a good way to enhance discoverability, and brings great content and present to the users.
All in all, information ear, people has always been surrounded by all kinds of information, and overwhelmed. The findability and discoverability are very important in helping them quickly locate the right content, as a result, greatly improve users’ satisfaction and increase engagement.