No more new windows!

It’s so funny to me that I deal with the exact same issues at different organizations whenever I am new– this week it’s new windows! Opening up a new window is so important to people (who don’t understand the web) because they don’t want their users to leave their site– that’s just exhibiting a selfish desire to keep the user on their site.  Instead, let’s be generous to the user and respect their browsing experience.  If you respect the user, in the end your user, your customer will respect you and use your esrvices. I sent this out to my staff today and I thought this is perfect blog fodder, too! So here’s my philosophy (and some links to some folks who are an expert on web accessibility) on new windows:

Avoid opening new windows when at all possible—even when linking to pages off site. The web was made for links and when you send a user off to a valuable web site through a link they appreciate you keeping their browsing experience intact and will remember that you referred them to useful site and will come back to you (of course this assumes that we only link to valuable sites).

On the other hand opening a link in a new window opens a new browser on the user’s computer without their consent and breaks the back button where they cannot use normal usability constraints to find their way back to your site.  If you have ever watched a novice web user use a site where links are opening in new windows, then you know you are completely confusing them with those new windows and at the end of their browsing session they could have seven or eight windows open.

At times it is appropriate to pop-open a new window for special features such as flash animation, video or podcast. When we do pop-open the window it’s nice to make sure we are controlling the size of it to make sure the user can still the the original content behind it and know they are in a new window and if you want to be really nice you can provide a nice close button so the user can get rid of that window.

Here’s some good reads on not forcing a new window on the user

If you’re not sure whether or not you should open or new window, then err on the side of the user and just don’t open it.

Try Feedback Army for instant feedback

If you’re tired of asking your family and friends to let you know what they think about your latest design and you don’t have time or money for formal usability testing, you should try out Feedback Army. The new service uses Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to get 10 random peoples response to any 10 questions you want to ask all for only $7. You normally get the first response to your question within a couple of minutes.

Joshua Benton at the Nieman Journalism Lab tried it out and said a couple of the responses were duds, but overall it was useful feedback.

The fold is gone

Since the beginning of the web, web designers have continually worried about the fold and fought the fold. The fold is the mythical line that denotes what the user sees when they first visit a web site and what the user does not see (below the fold). (I believe the fold concept comes from newspaper design where designers had to make sure compelling photos and headlines were placed above the fold to drive single copy sales of newspapers placed in newspaper racks.) Content owners and advertisers constantly argue and harass web designers for placement above the fold to ensure that their content is seen.

Clicktale blog has exploded the myth of the fold with some of their recent research. Their research shows that basically the same percentage of page views will reach the middle of a web page regardless of the actual page height in pixels and Almost identical percentages of page views (15%-20%) reach the page bottom regardless of page height.

While you’re pondering the effect the fold disappearing has on your website you might want to investigate ClickTale’s Heatmaps.