Search Patterns

Search Patterns (2010) is the fourth selection in my series of book excerpts. This is a practical book that helps people use the Search Patterns Library to design for discovery and to make search better. That said, as you can see in this excerpt, I had a bit of fun in the final chapter by dabbling in speculative fiction about the future of search.

Tangible Futures

The wind chime maker invites nature into collaboration.
– Brenda Laurel

Animism is the belief that souls or spirits exist not only in humans, but also in animals, trees, mountains, rivers, wind, weather, and other natural objects and phenomena. It’s an idea that infuses philosophy and religion in countless cultures throughout history. It’s also a wellspring for myths: traditional stories that explain the origin of the universe, the history of a people, and the purpose of social institutions. One of the main functions of myth is to establish models for behavior. The narratives of Prometheus, Pandora, Sisyphus, Oedipus, and Odysseus are designed to instruct. Our familiarity with these ancient stories proves the power of myth. These lessons endure. They are made to stick.

Interestingly, in modern vernacular, a myth is a false story or belief, but within their cultures of origin, myths are sacred narratives that tell truths about the past. Today, myths have lost credibility, yet they still offer the power of reflection. Through metaphor and analogy, myths reveal the story of ourselves. Heroes, tricksters, and gods are but vessels for the personification of our own hopes and fears. Myths are mirrors. They catalog patterns of experience and expectation. They remind us that what’s past is prologue. More than just vivid stories of yesteryear, myths animate and act upon the future.

In design, we would do well to embed similar insight and influence in our deliverables. We need stories and sketches that bring search and discovery to life. We need principles and proverbs that capture the essence of human psychology and behavior. And we need maps and models that shape beliefs about what’s possible, probable, and preferable. After all, design is inextricably invested in the future. Our research reveals the latent desire lines that inspire new products, and our prototypes engage people in spirited discussions of strategy, technology, and experience.

In an era where the hard things are the soft things, our work invests ideas with substance. We transform abstract patterns and proposals into physical artifacts with sensory and emotional resonance. While our hearts are in the betterment of communication and collaboration, there’s no question we’re in the business of persuasion. We change minds. Our prototypes and predictions influence the future, even when they’re wrong. We are the makers of maps and myths. We are entrusted with the authority to put the soul in search by making tomorrow tangible.


Anja felt happy. She was sitting cross-legged on Claire’s bed. She stole a last glance at the sun-dappled meadow before her best friend drew the curtains and collapsed into a giant pink bean bag in the far corner of the room. Of course, “happy” wasn’t the right word, but “elated” was over the top. “Playful” was good. She added “peppy” and “perky” to the query, then “pink” just for fun. Both girls laughed as the results tickled their senses. Images of bunny rabbits and puppy dogs spun into sight. A flock of butterflies flew by overhead. The warble of a barn swallow became a mountain stream, a flute, chimes in the wind.

Claire reached for the sensory controls, nudging up taste and smell, while tapping the soothing tag near the barn swallow icon. The girls sighed in sync as hot chocolate infused with hints of cinnamon and vanilla soothed their preteen limbic systems.

Anja spun the similar sensewheel and landed on s’mores, closing her eyes to savor the crunchy, chocolatey, smoky, sticky mess. A soft sob broke the spell. Anja looked up to see her friend in tears. Claire replied to the query on Anja’s face with, “I miss my mom.”

Claire’s mom had died the year before. The brain cancer was detected early, but it was too deep for surgery and unresponsive to drugs and radiation. That’s why the girls didn’t visit much anymore. Claire’s dad had moved to the country to “get away from it all.” Whatever that meant. They still hung out virtually every day, but it wasn’t the same as in person.

Claire sat quietly in the corner in her big pink bean bag.

“Show me,” Anja whispered.

Claire summoned a video wall with her left hand, her fingers and eyes dancing their way through a colorful montage of bedtime stories, birthday parties, sing-alongs, and other bittersweet memories that started sad but trended too quickly to sunlight and sugar.

“No,” said Anja softly, looking directly into her friend’s eyes. “Show me.”

Claire stared back for a moment, took a deep breath, then flipped the switch for emotive output. Anja gasped as feelings of loss, fear, anger, and guilt washed through her medial temporal lobes. She closed her eyes and covered her ears, but couldn’t shut out the pain. She felt like weeping and wailing and tearing her own flesh. The sensations of darkness and despair were unbearable, consuming, neverending. And then they were gone.

Claire joined Anja on the bed, and the two friends embraced. After tears had run their course, Claire caught Anja’s eye and conjured a rainbow that lit up the room. Anja responded with a flag waving in the wind. It was red, white, and pink. The game began anew. The girls searched and stumbled and smiled through their five senses and beyond.

Anja soon felt happy. Of course, happy wasn’t exactly the right word.