Discovering the Unfindable: The Tension Between Findability and Discoverability in a Bookshop Designed for Serendipity

  • Stephann MakriEmail author
  • Yi-Chun Chen
  • Dana McKay
  • George Buchanan
  • Melissa Ocepek
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 11747)


Serendipity is a key aspect of user experience, particularly in the context of information acquisition - where it is known as information encountering. Unexpectedly encountering interesting or useful information can spark new insights while surprising and delighting. However, digital environments have been designed primarily for goal-directed seeking over loosely-directed exploration, searching over discovering. In this paper we examine a novel physical environment - a bookshop designed primarily for serendipity - for cues as to how information encountering might be helped or hindered by digital design. Naturalistic observations and interviews revealed it was almost impossible for participants to find specific books or topics other than by accident. But all unexpectedly encountered interesting books, highlighting a tension between findability and discoverability. While some of the bookshop’s design features enabled information encountering, others inhibited it. However, encountering was resilient, as it occurred despite participants finding it hard to understand the purpose of even those features that did enable it. Findings suggest the need to consider how transparent or opaque the purpose of design features should be and to balance structure and lack of it when designing digital environments for findability and discoverability.


Information encountering Serendipity Findability Discoverability 


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Copyright information

© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephann Makri
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yi-Chun Chen
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Dana McKay
    • 2
  • George Buchanan
    • 2
  • Melissa Ocepek
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for HCI DesignCity, University of LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.iSchoolUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  3. 3.iSchoolUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

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