Traditionally, finding the information you want on a directory site can be a daunting task. First you have to learn how the information is structured, and we all have asked ourselves, why is the information structured in this peculiar way?
Unfortunately, there is no single international standard that satisfies all cases and the various attempts at achieving "The Standard", has resulted in a lot of confusion.
Having identified this challenge, we opted for a process which we believe will provide for a intuitive and interactive user experience.
At the same time, the process also has to be very performant ( in other words fast ) or one looses the sense of interactivity and it starts to impact negatively on the user's experience.
We have included here screen shots of the Places Search Bar for desktop or notebook (top) and for hand-held mobile devices. The second screenshot shows the display of the Places Search Bar on the iPhone-4 (one of the smallest mobile phones).
The design of the layout is intended to provide in-context and focused functionality with a minimum of clutter.
We made provision for the traditional navigation process through the use of a single-level menu in the horizontal orange bar.
The first three options in this menu, will navigate you to one of the Key Functional search pages, (Providers, Places and Events).
The rest of the options in this menu represent the Top Level Offering Categories of the Providers and as you will be looking for places, these will not apply at this stage.
The Places Search Bar incorporates a blend of traditional and interactive navigation.
Selecting a Place Category is at this stage, through a single level select function - select what you want and look at the results.
The Location function utilizes a fully hierarchical Geographic Data Model incorporating the EU NUTS3 administrative model and expanding on it down to small village and hamlet level.
All place elements such as landmarks, rivers, statues, etc. are geo-located and associated with the deepest-level known place (be it a village or a hamlet).
The Direct Interactive Method relies on a bi-directional "hinting" process.
You type in any part of a word or phrase and the system responds back with results that include your phrase.
Let us for the moment look for the town of Lagos.
We need to only type the first three characters (the system is case insensitive).
After the third character has been entered, the background request is triggered automatically and the system responds back with with results that match.
The results are displayed in a drop-down list from were you can select your choice.
There may be cases where your expected result does not appear in the list of options. In this situation, just keep typing more characters until the results offer you the option you want to select. Think of this as "inline refining".
If after typing the full name and still not getting a desired result, the chances are that either the place you are looking for, is not in the database, or you may have made a spelling error.
You will notice that to the top right hand of the text box where you type your location name, there is an icon. This is the Eraser and it does exactly as it's name implies. It clears the contents of the text box.
Let's select the Lagos Council option from the list.
Within about half a second the system responds back with the geographic tree as can be seen in the image.
The built-in Helper function located at the top right of the search text box (the downward pointing chevron) is indicating that there is more information to be accessed.
If we click on this Helper, it opens up a drop-down panel from where we can refine our search further.
Having selected the Lagos Council, we now have access to the next level from which, we can select any place within the Lagos Council area.
The unintended but welcome benefit from this, is that the users are inadvertently exposed to an underlying education in the geography and administrative structure of the region. Through repeated use of this search function, the geography of the area is slowly imprinted without the user even realizing it or having to worry about it.
Another benefit to especially non Portuguese users that are not familiar with the correct spelling of place names (Barão de São João being a typical example), is that they need not be concerned, as they just select from a list.
Every darkened block is a link which will allow us to navigate back to any level and then branch out again to any other option.
There is no limit to the number of iterations that can be performed and the real power becomes evident when with every iteration, the results are presented in about half a second.
One can at any stage, switch over to the Place Category element and perform similar iterations there. The criteria selected here will remain in force until you decide to revert back to change the criteria.