A search engine is used by document controllers to search for documents, types of documents, locations that contain documents. The documents are described by vast amounts of meta data and the search interface looks like this:

enter image description here

The tabs at the top either scope the search (tasks, documents) or manage previously run searches (...Manager) The folder system to the left appears to do nothing.

I have been given no research information so have no rationale for any of the decisions that created the interface.

I can simplify this interface by:

  • getting rid of the tabs at the top and creating one unified view
  • tidying up the alignment of fields and labels
  • getting rid of rarely used fields
  • grouping or combining similar fields
  • creating a simple search
  • splitting the right hand frame into two so that results are visible with criteria

But what else could I consider? What about a filter results panel? Am I missing something?


I would love to do research but no client go-ahead for that

edit 2

here's my solution enter image description here

still waiting to get go ahead for research

problem: if the user chooses different meta data from the filters, the column tables wont make sense. How do I get round this?

  • 2
    You don't even know how to use the application and you have decided you need to simplify? Learn the application as it is and talk to users. What is your basis to get rid of rarely used fields? The fire extinguisher in the hall is rarely used. I see nothing wrong with that alignment.
    – paparazzo
    Sep 10, 2014 at 14:30
  • There are many potential fundamental UX issues to be addressed from looking at the screenshot. PS fire extinguisher argument does not logically follow
    – colmcq
    Sep 10, 2014 at 15:01
  • 1
    You say "I would love to do research but no client go-ahead for that" - but what do you have go-ahead for? Has the client requested a redesign, or is this part of a system-wide set of improvements, or is this a one-off idea to change this particular screen? Sep 12, 2014 at 11:26
  • 1
    Heuristic review for large software app and I'm saying that's all well and good but I need to talk to end users if I'm to make it really useful. Every seasoned UX pro reading this will share my frustration.
    – colmcq
    Sep 12, 2014 at 11:47
  • 1
    Seasoned UX pros may share your frustration; but that will be nothing compared to the fury of your users if you remove their valued functionality without being really, really sure of what you're doing. Personally, I'd refuse to touch it until you get to do your research. Sep 12, 2014 at 17:14

4 Answers 4


If it meets the requirements, you probably should consider an initial/normal search that shows the users far fewer fields and then provide an advanced search option that repaints the screen.

Is the tree view on the left the filter or is it part of the search criteria (like selecting a folder in Windows Explorer and then searching in the right pane for items in that folder)? And I agree with you about dropping the tabs. Also, consider placing the label to the right of the check box control and use the same capitalization style for all controls.

  • the folders on the left scope the search to just that folder unless the user over rides it with the Search drop down.
    – colmcq
    Sep 10, 2014 at 12:40

Sounds like you've got a handle on this. Applying the suggestions you've made will result in a clearer UI.

In answer to your question, I'd say that what's missing here is some user research. You say that you've "been given no research information". Does that mean that you can't get any of your own? One of the mantras of this site and industry is that you should be making design decisions in the context of your users' goals.

How often and in what way features are actually used should determine their prominence in the UI. Making your changes based on information gleaned from a few observation/interview sessions will result in a better first draft than in if design based on your own assumptions (even if you're a user)

  • " I'd say that what's missing here is some user research. " this is what I say everyday to folks that work here. They are slowly getting it. User research is the key to all of UX
    – colmcq
    Sep 10, 2014 at 14:17

You could group many rarely-used search rules into a single drop-down. When one of these rules is selected, it then gives you the options for that rule and allows you to add it as a rule to the search.

Another idea to consider is to use keywords in the search string. For example, if you type to:email@address, GMail will only search for emails to that address. This may be helpful if the users of this search interface tend to use it a lot. A drop down of rules as suggested above would work well in conjunction with this--selecting a rule would cause the appropriate keyword and values for that rule to be added to the search string.


You should do some user research. I think (but this is an assumption), that the fields could be better organized then.

Look at which fields are mostly used, put them on top, provide advanced search, and then group fields based on how often they are used together.

But, like I said, do some user research.

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