Discovery is fun - is it in your UX vision?
(February 29, 2012)

In the last couple of years, with the amazing improvements in web search, either across the web or on individual websites, we’ve almost abandoned the importance and need for browsing and discovery. Yes, it makes sense to refine algorithms to make it possible to narrow down or funnel the most likely response – some manner of filtering was necessary once the curate directory systems became over charged. Cutting through the world-wide noise to get to the heart of what we are looking for is a good thing. 

But what about when we just want to window shop?
The timeless path of browsing, peruse, surf, window shopping, leafing through,... or whatever you want to call it, is all about taking the time to discover something that we don’t always know precisely, if at all. Discovery, be it how a website behaves or just wandering through links that are interesting without delivering on the completion of a specific task, is fun
Sure, many of us don’t have time to surf the web or window shop for all that matter, but that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t like to. Certainly, a web that is filtered by every other action that we and our co-citizens take, one that limits results to those geographically closest or only from our country, is not ideal to the value of discovery that the Internet was founded on.

We were explores

humans like discovery; child with bubbles and the space shuttle blasting offYes, we navigated and surfed, browsed, explored and marvelled at all the unknown. We learned about things that we could never have imagined stumbling on. Things that we didn’t even know we were interested in.
A good and accurate search result is a beautiful thing. But I want to step outside my task oriented life from time to time. I like to discover new things. It makes me feel good, feel smarter than I was before. 

Share, +1 and follow

Sharing is good and yes, we all learn from each other. But with all this sharing and following going on, it’s hard fell like you ever actually discover anything anymore because most discoveries come from leads left by our friends and social media circles. We tend to spend so much of our time on social sites that we rarely get to see much that’s truly outside our circles; are just following the pack? While in search this is probably not a great thing (at least I’d like the possibility to window shop).

Steer clear of the enemy

In UX design the unknown is often considered the enemy. This is an essentially true statement but only when considering the behaviour of GUI elements. That does not necessarily eliminate new ways of doing things or of offering opportunities for discovery, learning and even new and improved methods of “seeing” our way around websites.
Being consistent, sticking with shared expectations and best-practices is all well and good, but you have to be ready to step outside convention if you ever want to develop the newest best-practice. This is where seeing the opportunity of discovery become vitally important in great UX design. 

Discovery in UX design

So when is it appropriate to offer a user discovery? Well, often so long as the simplest of tasks is relatively painless to accomplish. I return to my first point – discovery is fun. Thus, if you truly have a good understanding of your target audience and their tasks to be accomplished, you can find the opportune moment to introduce discovery = fun = engagement.
For example, when a user is faced with making a navigational decision are we giving them enough clues and does the result meet their expectations or is it a letdown or are they pleasantly surprised? When we have profound understand of the context and user, we have the opportunity to offer contextual choice; One that can meet expectations and sometime exceed them. Equally, by providing the expected answer, we can build upon a user’s sense of curiosity and lead them further and deeper into a site or subject.

Bring back some discovery

I think that discovery and fun has been a large part of the success behind Pinterest. While I'm not a personal fan, I get that there is the fun element. We can use more of this around the web. 

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