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So here's an interesting one. The product is: imagine google maps, we map all places, but places change throughout time. As place names and borders change, we are collecting data on historical places.

Most users will use a 'simple search' to find their place. this a single text box where they type place name.

The mockup below represents an "advanced search". Place name is self-explanatory.

Places within will do a search but only look for places that are inside a larger place (for example if I choose United States, the search results will bring back the 50 states as the results).

Place type filter results for a specific type (cemeteries, cities, provinces, etc)

Years are to specify a historic time period of a place

Location will return all the places within a specified radius of a point the user selects (latitude/ longitude)

This area has not user test well. Users either try to fill in all the fields (not realizing they are optional) or they just have a general difficulty grasping the model of how the system works. Any thoughts to help me with this I'd appreciate.

Mockup of Advanced Search

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    But which fields are optional? There is no way to tell, from looking at this design :) – Michael Heraghty Mar 21 '18 at 12:28
  • Maybe that's part of the problem. But in reality, any of these are optional. – Casey Robinson Mar 21 '18 at 17:54
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Could you shift the intelligence regarding which type of locations to the algorithm, rather than rely on the user to identify which fields to use for location? Place name, Places within can be interchanged, depending on the scale (I could want to search for all hospitals within Barcelona). Latitude / longitude with a mile radius is also another way to pinpoint a location and the adjoining area.

I would keep only one field for location, and then let the users interact with the zoom to choose whether they are interested in the location of a city relative to the country or planet, or all the places within this same city.

Place type and year would work well as filters, once the main location is set. I can imagine though that historians or geographers might be interested in seeing all the human settlements in a given period, or all hospitals on the planet, independently of a location.

Do you have an exploratory mode, like browsing the map without any search? Then I could imagine having all 3 fields (location, type, years) as filters on top of your map.

Placing them horizontally with an "Apply" button for each would indicate to the user that they are on the same level, and can be used independently or in addition to one another. They will be obviously optional, as the user will already be able to see the map.

  • I appreciate your comments, I've discovered a lot more nuances to user intents and technology constraints that make this problem more difficult yet. A tough nut to crack, but I like your suggestions. Thanks for the time you took to think this through! – Casey Robinson Jul 30 '18 at 17:26
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Would it be possible to make it showing results after the first search field is filled?

Maybe this could help.

[Update / Explanation] My idea is that if results are updating while users fill in the data, it will be clear that users don't have to fill in all the fields.

  • This does not seem to answer the question. It's also unclear. – Mayo May 18 '18 at 12:49
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Inspired by Mike Mark's suggestion: each time they shift focus from one entry field to another, would it be possible to inexpensively compute the approximate number of results that the search will yield? If you had a continuously-updating message box that was showing something along the lines of "About 300 results found" then this would indicate to the user that at any time they can commit their current search.

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