Lab Poll: New Window or No?

During the recent redesign of viget.com, the question came up: should we force external links to launch in a new window, or leave it up to the user? It was time for a Lab Poll. Some justify the launching of new windows as a way to keep users from leaving their site; but, as Jakob Nielsen pointed out way back in 1999, it can have the opposite effect – by rendering the back button useless. His list of design mistakes had “breaking the back button” and “opening new windows” ranked #1 and #2. The thought is that users who browse full-screen (and may be less savvy) won’t notice the new window launching and will be baffled with a busted back button. Have times changed? As screen sizes grow, more users are surfing with their browsers sized down, making multiple windows more manageable. Firefox users, of course, have long embraced tabs, and many configure new windows to open a new tab. The consensus? Everyone agrees that internal links should stay in the same window, of course, and that launching new windows without warning (e.g., pop-under ads) are a no-no. The collective (majority) opinion, with the noted objection of a couple of usability purists, is that external links, though, should open a new window and include an icon indicating that they will. We'll work on that here, will you?

Brian is Viget's co-founder and CEO. He does everything from advising our clients to building our conference tables with his bare hands in our Falls Church, VA, HQ.

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