At AnswerDash, we strive to improve our product and the benefits it delivers to our customers and theirs. We follow a highly iterative, evidence-driven design approach where we combine user data, customer feedback, and informed trial-and-error to produce the next advance in our contextual Q&A system. Data tells us what’s working, what’s not, and how our product is being used. Customer feedback tells us what’s desired and why. And informed trial-and-error allows us to put our ideas into practice, measure them, and wend our way to intuitive, innovative features.
We’ve recently applied this process to the refinement of our signature feature, object search, and we’re delighted with the outcome. Object search was already successful by any measure—hundreds of thousands of users have employed it to get contextual answers. On some sites, as many as 70% of answers are delivered to users via object search. But the interaction design of the previous version was a bit unorthodox and customers sometimes wondered just how usable the feature was. We’re confident from all our usability work that the new design of object search is usable, useful, and even fun for users. No other help technology has anything like object search and we’re proud of this new design.
So what exactly is object search?
When users search for help on most websites, they usually have to formulate a text query of some kind. Then they press “Enter” or click “Search” and look at the options their query returns. Finally, they select among those options to dig further. This formulate-search-select process requires a lot of work for users and fewer than 1% of them will ever bother to search a knowledge base attached to a site.
AnswerDash’s object search turns searching on its head. Instead of requiring users to formulate a text query and then select among options, users first select among options and only formulate as a last resort. What was formulate-search-select becomes select-to-search without requiring formulation at all. What exactly do users select? They select objects on the site to get the most relevant contextual Q&A right on those objects. We call this latter capability “object search” and it allows users to directly click on website objects to get more information. Objects include labels, links, buttons, images, videos… just about anything a website can display is a viable target for an object search—a simple click at that location to reveal the most relevant Q&A about that thing.
Above, object search was used on the blue jeans image to get Q&A about it. Then, the help cursor was moved to the hoop earrings which, if clicked, will reveal 5 Q&A. The AnswerDash tab appears at right, where the pushbutton for object search is currently depressed and marked with an “X” to exit.
The business benefits of object search
Object search allows users to get contextual Q&A about any object with just a click of the mouse. Users can therefore get highly-relevant answers with very little effort—without typing and without leaving the page. As a result, companies enjoy reduced support tickets and increased sales. Companies also get AnswerDash’s analytics tools that tell them exactly where users’ questions arise, and ideas for improving their site or app as a result.
Object search requires no additional effort on the part of companies that adopt it. Because it is a search technology, Q&A are not hard-tethered to specific page objects. There’s no manual process required to associate Q&A with objects on the page. AnswerDash’s algorithms figure out which Q&A pertain to which page objects. If pages change or objects move, no matter. The power of search makes such changes inconsequential to object search.
How is the design of object search different than before?
In an early version of our product, the object search mode was indicated by a shade that dropped over the entire page. Mousing over objects highlighted them against this shaded background. This was a highly usable design, but customers worried about the visual effects of shading their site, so we removed the shade.
The next iteration of object search involved using a tool attached to the mouse cursor. Users moved a question mark tool onto page objects to get Q&A about them. This was visually much more acceptable than the shaded design, but it was a bit unorthodox, and customers worried about usability, despite positive results of our extensive user testing. So we decided to take another iterative step.
The previous design, above, shows the object search feature as a question mark (?) tool above the tab on the left side. That tool could be moved atop objects in the page to get Q&A about them.
Our new object search design combines the best of both previous ideas. Rather than shade the page, only individual objects are shaded when the mouse passes over them. And rather than moving a separate question mark tool around, the mouse cursor itself becomes the system’s help cursor when in object search mode. Object search mode is entered and exited with a simple pushbutton that toggles in and out. This new design feels intuitive and fast, offering a great way for users to learn more about a website by “just clicking around” in object search mode. We have extensively tested this new design for usability and have found it to be highly usable and even delightful to users.
The new design for object search has a pushbutton toggle at the left side that turns the mouse cursor into the system’s help cursor. When the pushbutton is depressed, it shows as an “X” for easy exiting of the mode.
Specific changes to the AnswerDash Q&A tab
For those customers who are interested, here are some specific changes that have come with the new object search design:
- Object search is now entered and exited with a pushbutton on the AnswerDash tab.
- When the object search pushbutton is clicked, the mouse cursor becomes the system’s help cursor. With this cursor, users can click on any page objects to get more Q&A about them.
- When users wish to exit object search, they can click on the same pushbutton they used to enter the mode. They can also click on whitespace / deadspace or hit the “Esc” key.
- AnswerDash no longer offers the ability to change the radius or border width settings on the AnswerDash tab. Specifically, affected are:
- “Corners” (border radius)
- “Selection border size” (border on object search indicator)
We always welcome your feedback. Please send any thoughts, questions or ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope you’ll try the new object search functionality. You can turn it off or on in your account Settings.