I am building a call center tool user interface. The search consolidates results from multiple sources, - approximately 10. There is crossover between the different sources. For example I cannot always be sure that the answer to a certain type of problem is in a particular source. In a call center, time is quite literally money, so my current plan is to try and find a way to consolidate all the the results into the same page. Our search technology is not sufficiently advanced to be able to rank results between different sources, so a consolidated list is off the table.

What are some patterns I can use here? I have spiked a couple of designs up but I am not happy with either.

two different design mockups

I started with option 1) but don't like it as it doesn't scales easily and having multiple frames / scrollbars would start to look very messy. With option 2) I thought by making the results panes collapsible it may look a little cleaner, but still a lot going on. I had thought about using facets, but would still be faced with the same problem of how to display the different results panes.

Really what I am looking for is some examples of patterns, or pages that solve this problem. I should also note that I am not a UX professional, I am a product manager with a background in development and a Balsamiq license!

6 Answers 6


In my experience the most result sets are only from one or a few sources. Thus there is no need to have scrollbars or collapsible containers; just display all results and cap the maximum per source.

multiple sources to the side

(I have recently been working on such a search results page, we had 3 source categories and one banner for special keywords. You can see it in full action here and here a bit more empty including the banner.)

This puts the meta-information (from which source a result is) out of the main view. The result itself is more important then to know from which category it comes. And it also makes it possible to scan which categories returned results by looking at the side.

Some tips I just copied from our solution back then, because I think they are good for your situation as well:

  • putting the categories to the side as explained above
  • usually show maximum three results from each category, put the others behind a link (that shows everything from that source, paginated as with Google)
  • hide categories with no results

And some things I also would do (which we didn't do then):

  • show more (than three) results from a source if other sources have less or zero

Phil said to open the "more results" in a new page. I would usually open links in the same window, as often people know to find the back button. But in your case, test it! I think in such a high speed place as a call center where they've already accustomed to certain behavior it is important to follow what they as used to.

PS: I think your thought of having everything in one page is good, way better then having to search in different page, not only for fast places. Also, whenever your technology changes to make it possible to rank between the sources: think, design and test again. It might be good to have results grouped by category. However, it might be good to test with ordering categories.

  • 1
    Yep, looks better than my solution, you get my vote. Open "More results" in new page: I didn't mean new window, but use the whole page instead of an AJAX-expand (just like you do on the linked site). And one addition: I think depending on the content and use cases it could be necessary to show when some sections don't return any results.
    – Phil
    Commented May 15, 2011 at 19:08
  • Ah, sorry @Phil for misquoting / misunderstanding you. Good point about showing some categories anyway. We also had that with one main category - but that was partly also a technical limitation :)
    – Lode
    Commented May 15, 2011 at 19:29

How good is your algorithm? Are you confident the results will be relevant?

Reps don't use these tools because information is hard to find (poor matching on terms Reps use) or there is too much information returned (lack of precision).

I ran big call centers in a previous life, I would say having one or two highly relevant results outweighs multiple marginal results. If you can't qualify results, make it easy for the rep to quickly review and find the answer they need. That eliminates option two -multiple toggles will be cumbersome. Remember they will be talking at the same time that they are looking for the answer (they get dinged for dead air).

As was pointed out, formatting of results is very important. Also, consider using breadcrumbs to take the user back to the initial search result.

You mention that this time you are on the project, and not the development side--great! Use your leverage to get end users in on the project as early as possible. This is definitely an instance where user feedback will be key in delivering a successful final product.

  • 1
    I agree.... I have had users intricately involved in the process right from the start. Have seen many of these tools fail for the reasons described above. Thanks for answer.
    – Jon White
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 6:06

Actually either of your two designs should work well if the users can predict the source most likely to have their answer. Either way, they pick the source they think is right and start scanning. The answers by Lode and Phil are an effective blending of your two designs, where you show a sample of results for each source but provide a means to expand for more results from any one source. Somewhere in the blend you should be able to find the optimum for your users. If scaling to 10 sources is a problem, well, since your users can predict the likely sources, you can allow them to suppress the display of results of selected sources when they execute the search. Or make it so that collapsing sources on the results page expands the number of sample results for the remaining sources.

Is the problem that user cannot predict the source with any accuracy? Hmm. You say your technology does not allow ranking of results between sources, but how is the ranking within a source. That is, if a source has the answer, is it very likely to be the first result, next most likely to be the second, and so on?

If so, the optimal design may be to intermix the results into a single page, with the top result from each source at the top, second rank as the next set, and so on. Don’t worry that your top results from 10 different sources may not be equally likely. This intermixing gets the users looking at the first results first where the answer most likely lies. If the ranking within source is very good while the correct source is completely unpredictable, this will statistically get them to the right answer the fastest

Include with each result a prominent display of the source (e.g., column with a name and maybe a graphic), and always display the sources in the same order. This will help users:

  • Understand why there’re some results from “left field” in the top 10 or 20, and encourage them to scan beyond the top 10 or 20.

  • Make it easy to skip certain sources as they scan down the list once it’s clear the source has no relevant results. It may also help to include controls to manually hide the results of selected sources.

If the source is unpredictable and your ranking algorithm is unreliable, then your users and client are pretty much hosed. I don’t see any way to avoid manually searching through many search results no matter how you display them. Try re-thinking the problem.


I would probably try something like this:

Search Results

Remarks: If there is the possibility of lots of results from one source, the "show more" link should probably open on a new page (with the option to go back to your result of course). The additional text uses a lot of space but can be really helpful (depends on your content though). But there are more decisions to make:

  • How many results to show from every source
  • Show same amount from every source?
  • Formatting / design (titles, links, text etc.); "show more" link shouldn't look like result link for example

And of course: test it!

Hope that helps, Phil

Update: Just saw that there's a Chrome extension called Ozone that shows results from several pages. Might be interesting to look at.

  • Take a look at Lode's answer - I think it's the better solution (same approach but better use of space and better distinction between sections and results).
    – Phil
    Commented May 15, 2011 at 19:18

Mashing up the results - unless this is what you meant with "consolidated" - can give you freedom in terms of sorting. With checkboxes categories could be blended out. With colors (and/or text) you can assign the results their categories. If it doesn't fit to the screen's height scrolling and pagination can be used.

enter image description here

  • 1
    Keep in mind that using color alone will make it very difficult for colorblind users to understand and use the search results. You can use color, but you can't rely on it to be your only source of information. So, in this case: add the name of the source to the results.
    – TomvB
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 7:51
  • I understood it as an internal call center tool. If there's colorblind people working there you can also use icons or add a text label.
    – erikrojo
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 9:25
  • Colorblindness isn't rare, as a rule of thumb you can assume that at least 1 in 20 males are more or less colorblind. In any normal-sized call center there will be multiple colorblind people (although they can be hard to find, since many people won't tell).
    – Marielle
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 11:25

Why not follow good ol' Microsoft? Its MSDN search results display the source of the reference in a column on the right. This way results can also be ordered by their relevance to the search terms, regardless of their source. If grouping by source is important it would be pretty easy in this setup to offer a "sort by source" link.

enter image description here

  • This only makes sense if the search engine can rank the results across all resources - I would assume that this isn't the case (otherwise the question doesn't make a lot of sense).
    – Phil
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 12:04
  • Phil - you are correct. We are using a Lucene based index and in iteration 1 of th product we have decided not to tackle the problem of merge and rank. Thanks for the advice though Marjan.
    – Jon White
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 14:25

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