Simplifying Facebook Search

Justin Stahl, a Product Designer at Facebook, shares how he and the rest of the Search team were able to rethink how users interact with Facebook Search.

Although it would introduce friction — another tap — for some searches, it would reduce friction — the cognitive load — for all searches, making both navigation and content search easier to understand.

The "it" being a simplified auto-complete, which slows down the process of getting to the search results in favor of clarifying what the user is trying to find. Using "number of taps" as a metric for success (or failure) is patently false for 99.9% of interactions on mobile, and Stahl's article is evidence of that. Education and clarification will always yield far more fruitful results.

"I sure have been tapping a lot…"

Later on in the post, in a section titled "Getting from there to here," Stahl gives us a glimpse at how projects materialize at Facebook:

Even with positive direction, we couldn’t shut everything down for six months to build a final product. Working backwards from the final model to the existing one, we broke the transformation into stages to smooth the transition, like the cover of an Animorphs book.
[…]
We used each stage of the redesign as an opportunity to review, investigate, question our assumptions, and alter the course of the product if necessary.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again: designer's should never approach a design in stages. We produce far more successful results tackling a project from the macro-perspective, with the creative freedom to explore new ideas while safeguarding against any potential edge-cases that may come up. With the larger picture envisioned, it is much easier to break the design down into stages for development, where you can continue to test your hypothesis and makes changes as needed.