A helpful, more intuitive way to search in Outlook mobile web
Search in Outlook mobile web was a rudimentary and disjointed experience. Typing on phones is hard, and our old search made users do all the work. How might we make search faster, unified yet contextual so people can easily find what they're looking for.
🤳🏾 Users get no help at any stage of search
📅 No event and calendar search
🔍 Can search for only one type of entity at a time
Typing on phones is hard, and with no aid to accelerate the process of search, users had to type entire queries and scan through a long, flat list of results.
Users may need to look at results across mail, calendar and people and accessing different types of results should be seamless. Our search was not global and unified.
BREAKDOWN OF THE PROBLEM
Our old experience didn't have support for event search. We needed to make search was truly unified so users can access all the types of results.
Understanding how, what and when people search on Outlook mobile.
Speaking to Outlook mobile users on their search habits was super insightful and helped us take key decisions for our experiences. Here are a few main takeaways.
⚖️ Balance between contextual and unified search.
🙅 Irrelevant content in zero query go unnoticed and is mostly tuned out.
🗃 Inbox is like a vault. People look for a lot of attachments, files and emails.
🕵️ A person's name is a common pivot while searching.
Your most important people in search zero query
We know from research (keyword data, user interviews, research reports) that users very often use people as a pivot to search for things (eg: mails).
This guided our decision to have a carousel of the people you interact with most at the top of our zero query content.
Deciding on number of recent keywords
Mobile web poses unique challenges in terms of available real estate. We took the decision the keypad being up by default, so that users start search right away.
With the keypad up, we wanted to keep keywords limited to what fits in the available space without getting hidden behind the keypad. This is responsive to device size.
Suggestions while typing the query
While typing, we wanted the suggestions to help accelerate the process of search so that users can search faster without typing a lot.
The suggestions are a mix of recent keywords, suggested keywords that are trending in your network and people.
Contextual yet unified results
A key decision we took for search results was that the user will always land on the result category matching the module they started search from. However they can easily switch across different result types.
For example, if search is invoked from the mail module, the user lands on mail results. This keeps the SERP contextual yet unified.
Folder scoping in mail results
We've observed and heard from our users that they often look within email folders to scope down the number of results they need to go through.
Which is why the email search results gives the user the control to look within specific folders.
People and event results
The people results are a simple list of matching people results.
Calendar search results follow a time axis, with landing focus on the nearest upcoming event result. Scrolling up takes the user back in time, and scrolling down takes the users to the future. Sticky month+year headers help anchor the point in time. Past events dates are a lighter grey to distinguish them from upcoming events.
ZERO QUERY / FUTURE SCOPE
Contextual and intelligent zero query going forward
We also brainstormed on ways to make zero query more contextual and helpful. We know from our users that they look for a lot of attachments. Hence, when invoked from mail module, zero query can have attachments as content.
Similarly when invoked from calendar, zero query can show upcoming events with option to take action as well.
Validating and shipping the new Search
Once the new experience was ready, we reached out to Outlook mobile users for Flash Feedback sessions. We asked them to try out the new experience, and to our extreme delight all users were able to intuitively start and complete their searches, understand and use the new features and had almost no hiccups along the way.
Some verbatim feedback:
"clean and modern"
"no hindrance to search"
"I'm able to find what I need"
"contact and keyword suggestions are helpful