Daily UX Crash Course: 18 of 31

Different people use sites and apps for different reasons. If you design for the wrong behaviour, you won’t get the results you want. Today we will learn about:

Browsing vs. Searching vs. Discovery


(If you’re just starting the UX Crash Course, Start Here.)


The words above can mean a variety of things in the real world, so for the purposes of this lesson:

Browsing is when you go to Ikea to look at all the model rooms “just to get ideas” and you walk out with a bunch of random crap anyway.

Searching is when you go to Ikea looking for a new sofa that will fit in your absurdly small apartment.

Discovery is when you find the sofa you’re looking for, and also buy those clever little nested end-tables because they are so damn clever and nested. As if those are things you need in your life.



When you visit an online store just because their products look nice or because you’re following trends, or because you’re dreaming of the day when your life will finally be completed by a $2000 handbag, you are browsing.

A browsing user will glance quickly at most of the images, one by one, starting at the top left. They might skip some, but that’s ok. Photos that the user finds attractive will get extra attention (maybe even a click!).

To design for browsing: make scanning easy and keep the content quick and visual. Don’t overcrowd the page with too much shit. Focus on the aspects of the products that create emotional appeal. If that’s style, focus on photos. If that is power (like boat engines or guns) then provide that info as clear labels. If that is brand names, clearly show the logos. If it is craftsmanship, magnify the handcrafted details. And so on.



When someone is trying to find something they have in mind, it may seem similar to browsing, but eye-tracking studies show a very different behaviour: they are hunting.

A searching user will ignore a lot of products or pictures. Organization in your layout will help them systematically work through the options; they don’t want to miss any!

A Pinterest-style layout works against them because it is “staggered” and random. But being able to “filter” the options is often useful.

To design for Searching: Focus on attributes. If they want a Russian Bride with brown hair and blue eyes, they will stop at every photo that has those attributes, but blondes are only getting in the way.

Highlight the attributes that are most likely to be “critical” for most users, and nothing more. Ignore any ideas you might have about what looks “cluttered”… if the information is useful, it isn’t “clutter”. This isn’t an art gallery.

When the user finds what they want, they will click for more information (or buy). A Russian Bride’s name, photos, and opinions about older creepy men might be major points of interest, but her shoe size and intense love of waffles… not so much.



Ok, so let’s say you users aren’t finding your amazing selection of antique kazoos, but you think they would buy them if they did. How do you create discovery?

The way you think people discover new things is probably the opposite of how people actually discover new things. Welcome to the wacky world of UX.

There are two mistakes you will probably make:

1) You will put it in the main menu, or create “banners” on your own site promoting it.

2) You will expect your most loyal users to find it first, because they spend the most time with your current design.

Both of those things are wrong.

#1: Users only click things in the menu if they are looking for those things. Simple as that. Almost nobody “discovers” via the menu. And banners don’t work because banners never work. Haven’t you ever used the internet before? Why would people suddenly get excited about banners now?

#2: The more experienced a user is, the less they explore for new things. In real life, only beginners explore sites or apps to find out what it can do. Experienced users know what they want, and they know how to get it, so why would they explore?

“If you liked that, you’re gonna love this…”

Instead of relying on users to find new things, let them find what they are already looking for. Put the new stuff there too (and make it relevant) so they can “discover” it. This might feel like you’re hiding it, but really you’re making it as visible as possible to the right people.

On a site like Reddit, people come for the top-voted content — not new submissions. But if nobody votes on new submissions, there will be no top-voted content! So Reddit puts a few new submissions — from the categories you like — into the top content so they become visible, get votes, and start the Circle of Life once again.


The more you understand your users, the more you will know what to design for. Do your damn research!


Tomorrow we’ll do the first step of actually designing a page layout: Page Framework — Navigation & Footers.