Wayfinding can be defined as the characteristics by which someone finds their way around. The word is usually used in a physical context like in a city or building. It can also be used to describe how people give directions in physical space (i.e. research says that women tend to use more land markers whereas men give more cardinal directions).
My research team and I decided to use this concept when testing our online data search tools (Arctic Data Explorer and NSIDC Search). Our audiences have similar characteristics, but Arctic Data Explorer users tended to be more general searchers whereas NSIDC Search users sought out very specific data sets.
Rather than base our hypothesis on gender, we suspected that a user’s level of experience in the science world influenced how they searched for data sets. It turns out we were partially right. It isn’t necessarily how long the user has been in science, but how familiar they are with that particular branch of science.
Both of these search tools share underlying technology and have the same goal – get users to the data they want! But, given the slight difference in audiences, some interface adjustments were required. The easiest thing to notice is that NSIDC Search has lots of very specific facets to help users drill down whereas the Arctic Data Explorer allows users to do a freeform text search. But what other differences do you see?