The size for search

On-site search is a crucial feature for type distributors. A potentially overwhelming number of fonts are presented to designers, and making it easy to narrow thousands of fonts down is part of what these sites aim to offer.

I don’t think this is the case for solo and even medium-sized foundry sites, where the catalogue is an already digestible size.

It’s not a perfect parallel, but the independent user experience research organisation Baymard came to a similar conclusion for niche direct-to-consumer ecommerce sites:

While users may be drawn to search on larger sites that are likely to appropriately invest in a robust and fully featured search tool, prior experience with poor quality or unoptimized search on other small retailers may dissuade users from relying on search for product finding.

​Indeed, using search as a last resort when navigating or browsing has failed — only to be disappointed with no or low-quality results — may be a worse overall experience than if search is not offered at all.

Again, this has nothing to do with incoming search that gets people to your site in the first place; this is purely for keyword searching the catalogue once you are already on their site.

So: direct-to-consumer companies with a smaller collection of specialty products don’t appear to benefit as much from having on-site search. Baymard also found that one of the only things people were searching for on these sites were “non-product” pages, ex. “warranty,” which may or may not be part of your site’s default approach to search. This is relevant for foundries too: if anything, is likely much more valuable to be able to keyword search a large collection of blog or support articles, than the details of a typeface—and depending on your platform, this might not be how the built-in search would work.

Their conclusion is that you “should invest elsewhere”—and given the choice, it’s much more valuable to be able to filter a medium sized catalogue rather than search it.

Even that can wait until a catalogue reaches a certain size. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all rule for what that size is, but: if the scope of your typefaces similar in script and character coverage, and choosing almost any filter is going to take the catalogue down to a single result, it’s probably still too early.

Let me know your experience with this, as a type-founder or a type-finder.