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I'm trying to make a case to add iconography to our company's predictive search results. For instance, a magnifying glass next to each query, or a timer icon next to recent searches. How do I determine the business and user benefits of adding these icons? Is it strictly for aesthetic/contextual purposes? Thanks.

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Perform an A/B test. An ideal way would be to add icons to an existing production site and measure the time it takes them vs. a group that doesn't see icons. If it's not possible to do a test on the actual site, you could recruit users and use a sandbox site or prototypes.

If the icons help users find their results more quickly, you could take that information back to leadership and make a case that it will help them complete/convert tasks more quickly.

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The way your question is phrased, the only possible answer is to test, just as Izquierdo says. I'd use other types of tests like usability tests and probably measure with Hick-Hyman's Law, but the bottom line is you'll need to test it.

If your question refers to the need for clues to search actions (whether they are symbols or not), then the answer is yes.

Look at an example below. I started typing "aut" into my Firefox search bar and it shows me 2 previous searches I have done, and suggests more possible searches that will be refined as I type more characters.

enter image description here

Now, the first 2 with the clock icon (as mentioned by you) give me very important information: This is a search I have already done. And it also saves me time: I do not have to type everything, I just click on the suggestion.

And again, you can go even further. Check this: instead of icons, they add photos and faceted searches inside a search flow

enter image description here

You could also check a lot of examples for autocomplete searches, and you'll see some of them have icons, some have other methods, but all of them add some clue to transmit more information to the user.

Also remember: icons are informational but in some cases are decorative. In the case you describe, they wouldn't be accessible. Furthermore, they would be invisible for some users.

In short

Yes, what you say is a good idea. It provides useful information, saves time, and shows the user that the different suggestions have different values (visited, not visited, suggested, auto-completed, etc). However, if it's within your possibilities, I would recommend also adding an option that does not rely only on visuals

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