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User Interface Design: Incremental Search

User interface

This is the first of what will be a series of posts detailing user interface designs I think are great, that suck, that are blegh.. you get the idea.

User interface cheers

#1 Incremental search

It’s hard to use the web today and not use incremental search, at least if you are using some of the major web sites of the day. Incremental search means you get search results without explicitly having to choose when to execute your search – you get results immediately as you search. Since the results are immediately displayed, you can stop typing the instant you see what you were looking for. This approach can be contrasted with the standard dialog box approach found in many word processing programs, in which you must explicitly execute the search. When combined with most recently used and statistically likely search results, incremental search can seem like magic – how did Google know I was looking specifically for that?

You can see incremental search at work in some of the following applications and web sites

  • Facebook contact search
    Facebook contact search
  • Gmail contact search
    Gmail contact search
  • Google search bar
    Google search bar
  • Quicksilver
  • Firefox awesome bar
    Firefox awesome bar

Here is the evil modal dialog box incremental search replaces, this one from the otherwise excellent Textmate:
Evil dialog box

Edit: I should mention that Textmate features incremental search as well, when you use the ctrl s shortcut instead of command f.

The incremental search is also prevalent throughout Mac OS; Spotlight uses incremental search, as do the bundled apps like preview.

Jeff Atwood extolled the virtues of incremental back in 2005 in his post entitled Search: If It Isn’t Incremental, It’s Excremental He raises some excellent points as to why incremental search is superior, specifically “There aren’t any dialogs in your way”, “It wastes less of your time”, “Mistakes are clearly evident”, “It’s interactive.”

Thankfully programmers are making incremental search the standard rather than the exception.

That’s it for this installment. To come: Facebook does checkboxes right.

Categories: regular, UI
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  1. December 10, 2010 at 5:15 pm

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