Search Design in the Time of Corona

Posted on 26/03/2020 by Peter Tessel.

Just like the rest of the world, for two weeks now the Corona virus has gripped the Netherlands. Unlike other countries we are not (yet?) in a lockdown situation but we were called upon to keep social distance and ever since life is concentrating at home and moving online. People work from home, children are educated at home and more and more companies provide their services via the Internet in an effort to allow normal life to continue as much as possible. Dancing, boxing and yoga teachers give online lessons, local business owners sell their (fresh) products via improvised web shops and realtors, tutors and trainers find creative ways to serve their clients.

We as a tech company already provide most of our services online and we can do most of our work from home. In order to create tailored search solutions however, we collaborate closely with our clients and their users. On the day prime minister Rutte issued the measures to slow the spread of the virus we had just planned a series of tests. We are building a search engine for the municipality of Utrecht and had just finished a first prototype.

Although we are convinced that these tests yield the best results when conducted in person, we decided to move online, just as so many other people do. As we prototype our search engines as functional websites we were in a good starting position to do so. We set up a video conference in Skype, asked our users to share their screen and invited them to use the prototype to conduct a number of searches they recently made in another way.

So far we have carried out a number of tests and the overall experience has been positive. Although we can interact less spontaneously and directly and have to limit the tests to half an hour to stay focussed, we were able to get feedback from the users. We learned what information was easy to find and what information harder, what additional sources users would like to search and how they would like to filter results. We also better understand what makes someone an expert and how someone can be identified as such in a list of colleagues. Knowledge we can use to further develop our expert search engine. In this way, online testing has helped us to keep the project on track.

Just like everyone we hope that all the measures that are taken right now will slow the spread of the Corona virus and that healthcare systems around the world will be able to provide all necessary care. We wish you all good health and hope to meet you again in person when the time is right.