In the latest major release of ProofHQ we made an important change to the way that the proof viewer opens. Previously, when you click a proof name in ProofHQ the proof viewer would open in the same browser window or tab. In the latest release we changed functionality so that the proof viewer now opens in a new browser tab or window.
Jakob Nielsen, probably THE web usability guru, described what we have done as one of the Top Ten Web Design Mistakes. He described opening new browser windows as a bit like “a vacuum cleaner salesperson who starts a visit by emptying an ashtray on the customer’s carpet”.
So why did we make this change when it apparently flies in the face of all that is understood to be good practice?
Firstly, Jakob Nielsen wrote that opinion before tabbed browsers became mainstream. In 1999 most browsers would open a brand-new window, which would quickly clutter a user’s screen. Since then tabbed browsers have become the norm and links will simply open a new tab rather than a new window. This does not justify our design decision in itself, but removed one reason why we should NOT make the change.
The second and main reason for making the change was that we wanted proofs and the proof viewer to feel more like “separate documents”. A significant number of ProofHQ customers are switching from Acrobat as their review tool and they are used to seeing separate Acrobat documents opening. We wanted the user experience to be similar and for people to treat each separate proof as a separate “document”. It certainly helped justify our decision to see Google Documents work in the same way, where each document, spreadsheet or presentation opens in a new browser tab.
The third reason for the change was that users often wish to have multiple proofs open at the same time. Automatically opening proofs in a new tab window makes this much easier.
The final reason is that users often access proofs from search results or custom views. Replacing the filtered view search results with a proof meant that the filter or search would be lost when the user clicked the Back button. By opening the proof viewer in a new tab the original filtered view or search results remain intact in the original tab and can be referred to again.
The ProofHQ design team is focused intensely on making ProofHQ easy-to-use for new or infrequent users, but with the advanced tools easily available for power users. We believe that this simple change significantly increases the usability of ProofHQ. However, if you have any feedback on the design of this or any other feature, please let us know.