These days it’s expected to be able to narrow search results with filters, e.g., on the left side of the results page. Called faceted navigation, this is a way to improve overall findability of information, particularly on sites with large collections of products or documents. Remember: people can’t buy what they can’t find, and filters help them get there.

The design of real-world faceted navigation systems, however, proves to be more intricate than people first assume. There are many hidden challenges, such as displaying large amounts of metadata and creating simple interactions average users understand. The truth is, once you dig into it there are many details to be aware of.

What’s more, faceted navigation doesn’t stop with search filtering: it can be applied to the design of navigation across the site. People can browse by facets before even searching, for instance. With this in mind, faceted navigation improves the discoverability of your content dramatically throughout the entire user experience.

I’ve developed a course on faceted navigation that I’ve been giving for nearly 8 years now. Many students ask for further resources and information. So I’ve compiled this list of references:

Marcia Bates, “The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface” (1989)

William Denton, “How to Make a Faceted Classification and Put It On the Web” (2003)

Karl Fast, Fred Leise, Mike Steckel, “All About Facets and Controlled VocabulariesBoxes and Arrows (2002)

——— “1. What Is a Controlled Vocabulary?Boxes and Arrows (2002)

——— “2. Creating a Controlled VocabularyBoxes and Arrows (2003)

——— “3. Synonym Rings and Authority FilesBoxes and Arrows (2003)

——— “4. Controlled Vocabularies: A Glosso-ThesaurusBoxes and Arrows (2003)

——— “Facets and Controlled Vocabularies: An Annotated BibliographyBoxes and Arrows (2003)

Instone, Keith “”Faceted Browsing – How User Interfaces Represent and Benefit from a Faceted Classification System“, SOASIST meeting, Dayton, Ohio

Jim Kalbach, Designing Web Navigation, Chapter 11 (2007)

——— “Faceted Navigation: Showing More Values

——— “Faceted Navigation: Layout and Display of Facets” (2010)

——— “Faceted Navigation: Grouping – An Untapped Potential” (2010)

——— “Faceted Navigation: SEO and Facets” (2010)

——— “Faceted Navigation: Typical Structures for Values” (2010)

——— “ROI of faceted navigation” (2011)

——— “Faceted Navigation: Displaying and Forecasting Magnitude“ 2011)

Kwasnick, Barbara H, “The Role of Classification in Knowledge Representation and Discovery” Library Trends (1999)

Fred Leise, Sarah A. Rice, Amy WarnerDeveloping a Faceted Classification” (presentation at the IA Summit, 2005)

Louie, Aaron J., Eric L. Maddox, and William Washington “Using Faceted Classification to Provide Structure for Information Architecture” Information Architecture Summit, Portland, OR (2003)

Peter Morville, “The Speed of Information Architecture“ (2001)

Jakob Nielsen, “Converting Search into Navigation” (2013)

Greg Nudelman, “Faceted Finding with Super-Powered Breadcrumbs” (2009)

Greg Nudelman, “Numeric Filters: Issues and Best PracticesUX Matters 

Priss, Uta, and Elin Jacob, “Utilizing Faceted Structures for Information Systems Design,” in ASIS ’99: Proceedings of the 62nd ASIS Annual Meeting (1999?)

Ranganathan, S.RElements of Library Classification. 3rd ed. New York: Asia Publishing House (1962)

Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati, Pervasive Information Architecture (2011)

Tony Russell-Rose and Tyler Tate, Designing the Search Experience: the Information Architecture of Discovery (2012)

Donna Spencer, Card Sorting (2009)

Louise Spiteri,”A Simplified Model for Facet Analysis: Ranganathan 101” Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science (1998)

Jared Spool, “Users Continue After Category Links” (2001)

Steckel, Mike, “Ranganathan for IAs” Boxes and Arrows (2002)

Daniel Tunkelang, Faceted Search (2009)

Peter Van Dijck, “Introduction to XFML” (2003)

——— “XFML Core – eXchangeable Faceted Metadata Language” (2003)



Elastic Lists



Freebase Parallax 


OptimalSort from Optimal Workshop for card sorting

Relation Browser

Scatter / Gather UI 

Trivago TV advertisement (shows the value of facets in a commercial setting)



One of the advantages of the prevailing model of faceted filtering on the web is the display of magnitude, or the size of the resulting set of items after selecting a filter value. You’ve seen this already: I’m talking about the numbers next to filter labels. This let’s you know how many things you’re going to get if you select that option.

While these calculations may be performance intensive, indication of magnitude provides valuable navigational cues to users. Seemingly trivial, this tiny bit of information can affect a user’s decision to select a filter or not. This post reviews approaches to showing magnitude in faceted navigation.

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m happy to announce I’ll be giving a one-day workshop on some my favorite topics in New York City:

  • What: “Web Navigation and Faceted Search Design”
  • When: Saturday October 22, 9:00-5:00
  • Where: General Assembly, 902 Broadway, NY, NY, 10010

General Assembly is hosting the event. You can register online at their website.

The first half of the day will cover various aspects of web navigation design. The second half will focus specifically on faceted search. Here’s a list of the topics covered:

  • Principles of navigation – We’ll look at principles such as transitional volatility, banner blindness, and the scent of information.
  • Mechanisms and types of navigation – Mechanisms are the basic building blocks of navigation systems. We’ll review and analyze a wealth of examples.
  • Cores and Paths – You’ll apply many of the principles from throughout the day with a modern technique called Cores and Paths. This turns the normal approach to navigation design on its head—from the inside out.
  • Analysis and implementation of facets – You’ll learn how to identify, document and implement facets with a clear framework.
  • Interface design using facets – You’ll learn about the layout, display, and interaction with facets in detail. Together, we’ll examine numerous real-world examples.
  • Advanced topics – You will also be exposed to special topics in faceted search design, including SEO, selecting multiple values, grouping, and more.

See the full workshop description for more details.

This is some of my best material, and I’m looking forward to the event.


Faceted navigation is widespread on the web (a.k.a faceted search and faceted browse). It’s become an expected standard. I’ve written several posts on the subject and also have a popular workshop on faceted navigation. (Next one: 22 Oct 2011 in NYC). Yet we really don’t know much about the ROI of faceted navigation. Or do we?

I’ve only been able to find a few studies or case studies reporting a measureable ROI of faceted navigation. There are lots of variables in play, and definitively showing measureable gains directly to faceted navigation can be tricky. But a simple before-and-after comparison should be possible.

One helpful sources is Endeca’s case studies. Examples of ROI include:

  • 100% increase in conversion rates; 100% increase in sales; Additional 100% increase in conversion rates with PowerReviews
  • AutoScout 24: 5% increase in lead generation to dealers; 70% decrease in no results found
  • Otto Group: 130% increase in conversion rates; Doubled conversion rates for visitors originating from pay-per-click marketing programs; Search failure rate decreased from over 33% to 0.5%

If you have such data or evidence in any form, please let me and others know about by commenting here. Note I’m not talking about studies that show how efficient faceted navigation is in terms of interaction or time on task (such as the ones reported here): I’m looking for hard evidence on ROI in real world situations.

It’s a positive sign that so many websites have faceted navigation these days: there must be something “right” about it. But why have so many site owners and stakeholders funded and implemented faceted navigation systems? What’s the actual return against the cost of implementation and maintenance?

Some logical arguments include combinations of the following:

  • Conversion: Customers can’t buy what they can’t find: Findability is critical for ecommerce sites.  A well-designed navigation plays a key role in getting people to the information or products you want to see. This ultimately helps you sell products or ideas. Faceted navigation has been shown to improve findability, in general.
  • Efficiency: Employees lose productivity when navigation is inefficient: These days company intranets can be enormous. The time to find information impacts employee productivity. Even the smallest increase in navigational efficiency can have huge returns for a large corporation if you multiple it by thousands of employees. Faceted navigation is efficient.
  • Confidence: Faceted navigation increases information scent: Revealing facet values gives users better insight into the type of terms and language used on the site. They are then able to match their information need with the content of the site, giving them confidence as the navigate forward through a given collection. This keeps them on the site and away from the customer support hotline.
  • “Aboutness”: Facets show the overall semantic make-up of a collection: Faceted metadata–the values associated with a collection of documents or products–give clues into the “aboutness” of that collection. Facets convey the breadth and type of a results list, for instance. This can help get to their target information better.
  • Reduced Uncertainty: Users don’t have to specify precise queries: With faceted navigation, users don’t rely on formulating precise keyword searches alone to find information. Instead, they can enter broad searches and use the facets in a flexible way to refine the initial query. This gives confidence in being comprehensive and reduces uncertainty in information seeking in general, as well as removes the frustration of finding no results.
  • Navigation: Browsing categories provides a different experience than keyword search: Jared Spool and his colleagues found that people tend to continue shopping more often when navigating than after doing a direct keyword search: people tend to continue browsing—and buying—when they can successfully navigate to the products they want to purchase. Sure, keyword searching may also get them there, but that experience is different. He writes in an article entitled “Users Continue After Category Links” (Dec 2001):
    • Apparently, the way you get to the target content affects whether you’ll continue looking or not. In a recent study of 30 users, we found that if the users used Search to locate their target content on the site, only 20% of them continued looking at other content after they found the target content. But if the users used the category links to find their target, 62% continued browsing the site. Users who started with the category links ended up looking at almost 10 times as many non-target content pages as those who started with Search.

A well-designed faceted navigation system won’t solve all your problems. But because navigation is so central to the basic web experience, it stands to reason that that are financial implications involved. What are they exactly?

Again, if you have any support for the above contentions or have another argument around the benefits of faceted navigation, please let me know.

I’m honored to be on the organizing team for the first European workshop on HCIR at the HCI 2011 conference in Newcastle on July 4. See the workshop website for more details.

We are looking for submissions from industry professionals, as well as from academics. If you work in related areas–such as IA, UX, search systems design, etc.–we’d love to hear about your practical experience in the form of a short position paper. The call for papers is now open.

What is HCIR, you ask? Human computer Information Retrieval (HCIR) is a relatively new area of investigation that brings together concerns of human-computer interaction (HCI) and information retrieval (IR). The term was coined by Professor Gary Marchionini around 2005. Wikipedia defines HCIR as:

…the study of information retrieval techniques that bring human intelligence into the search process. The fields of human–computer interaction (HCI) and information retrieval (IR) have both developed innovative techniques to address the challenge of navigating complex information spaces, but their insights have often failed to cross disciplinary borders. Human–computer information retrieval has emerged in academic research and industry practice to bring together research in the fields of IR and HCI, in order to create new kinds of search systems that depend on continuous human control of the search process.

HCIR includes a ranges of techniques and approaches that allow people to better interact with information and find what they are looking for, such as auto-complete, spell correction, and relevance feedback. A significant amount of attention is given to faceted navigation.

If you will be in Hamburg or Sydney in April, consider attending one of my workshops. I’ll be focusing on some of these aspects of HCIR around IA, web navigation, and faceted navigation:

1. In GERMAN: UX Workshops in Hamburg by NetFlow, 11-12 April

2. in ENGLISH: ANZ UX Workshops in Sydney, 28-29 April
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Are you in OZ and want to learn about faceted search, strategic alignment diagrams, IA, navigation and more this April? I’m  delighted to announce that I’ll be giving 2 workshops in Sydney on April 28-29, 2011!

See the workshop website for more information.

Here are some highlights:

WORKSHOP 1: Information Architecture for Strategic Web Design

Thursday 28 April 2011, 9:30-17:00 – This workshop focuses on the conceptual and strategic side of information architecture (IA). Topics include: alignment diagrams, mental models, concept maps, Cores and Paths, information structures and facets.

WORKSHOP 2: Web Navigation Design

Friday 29 April 2011, 9:30-17:00 – This workshop focuses on the nuts and bolts of good navigation design. Topics include principles of web navigation, navigation mechanisms, types of navigation, the scent of information, and faceted navigation.


  • Earlybird (to April 2): AUD 660
  • Regular Price: AUD 759


Beginner to intermediate web designers, interaction designers and IAs; usability experts looking to improve web design skills; and project managers, product mangers, and others seeking to better understand web navigation design.

See the registration details page for more information and to sign up.

I’m proud to be part of William Hudson’s UX Fest in London in February 2011. We’re planning 4 workshops in all:

There are several ways to get a discount:

  • Early bird price
  • 3-for-2 special
  • Or book all 4 workshops for a single price.

I’ll be giving two day-long workshops:

Workshop 1 – Designing Web Navigation

Wednesday February 9, 2011, Central London (James Kalbach)

This full-day workshop covers principles of web navigation and methods of navigation design with practical examples and exercises. Participants should have some experience creating or maintaining websites but are looking to deepen their design skills.

Topics include:

  • Principles of navigation
  • Scent of information
  • Elements of navigation: mechanisms, types and pages
  • Cores and Paths

Workshop 2 – Faceted Search & Beyond

Thursday February 10, 2011, Central London (James Kalbach)

Faceted navigation has become very popular in the last decade. It’s seen as way to improve the findability of information on many sites, particularly those with large collections of products or documents. The design of real-world faceted navigation systems, however, proves to be more intricate than people first assume, and designers must be aware of many details.

This workshop covers principles of faceted classification and shows you how to use facets in web design. Many examples of faceted navigation will be presented and discussed. A clear, structured framework for understanding the individual components is presented to help you understand all the decisions involved. The topics are brought to life through several hands-on exercises.

Topics include:

  • Facet analysis
  • Implementing facets
  • Interface design using facets
  • Advanced topics  including SEO, selecting multiple values, grouping, and more

Audience for both workshops:

  • Beginner to intermediate web designers, including interaction designers, graphic designers, and information architects
  • Usability experts looking to improve web design skills
  • Project managers, product mangers, and others working in related roles seeking to better understand web navigation design, who also have some experience creating websites.

Workshops In German

In April 2011, I’ll also be giving workshops on similar topics in German in Hamburg. See the “Workshops” link on my blog (to the right) for more details.


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