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A client has a search interface on their website. The site retrieves information from two different data sources which means that they use two search boxes. Additionally each box has a predictive function and this differs: the first box retrieves exact matches from one data source and will return users directly to a page. The second box returns predictions based on other popular search terms [that have been entered into that box], and returns users to a search results screen.

Problems: Users are not aware of the difference between the two boxes and will frequently crash the system by forcing searches before the predictive engine has had a chance to return matches (this applies to the first search box). Users don't read the instructions round the search boxes and are unaware that they perform different functions.

Here is my solution:

proposed search interface

notes: Putting the drop down before the search box is a little unorthodox but it's required because of the predictive functionality they want. I've tried to indicate to the user there is a logical flow and that there are different scopes (labels 1,2,3).

What do you think? Is this layout going to cause more problems? Is it too complex?

website here: www.sqa.org.uk

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I would probably aim for something like this:

Have one search box. If the user enters a term and hits search, just do a normal search (like in the first box on the current page). If he waits long enough for the predictions to appear and clicks one, load the landing page (like on the second box).

Side note: The predictions are annoyingly slow and you can get it to crash easily. I'd convince them to work on this (and yes, fast predictions are possible even with much bigger data sets, take a look at Google Maps for example). Or maybe get rid of the second search method completely and offer a drill down or something like that as an alternative access.

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Tx phil, I'll ask them if this is possible. –  colmcq Jun 29 '11 at 8:42
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