Thu 02 Sep
In spite of its imperfect feature set, I still find myself using the Omni Group’s OmniWeb 5 browser day in and day out. I like it, and I want it to succeed. But I can’t help but keep a mental tally of tweaks I’d like to see made to the interface. So last night I took a screen shot of the browser (using my trusty copy of Snapz Pro X), sat down in front of Photoshop, and started mocking up some of those ideas.
Very quickly, here are some details of what I came up with — the images on the left are how they appear in OmniWeb and the ones are the right are my tweaks. I’ll say right up front — the majority of these ideas were swiped from other browsers, especially Safari, so if they look suspiciously familiar, there’s why. There’s also a full size comp available.
The current favorites bar is too cluttered, so I’ve done a few things to reduce the visual noise: First, I’ve increased the height of the bar by a few pixels to give the items it holds a little room. Second, I’ve gotten rid of the Finder-like folder icons that OmniWeb uses to indicate a folder of bookmarks, and replaced them with little disclosure arrows.
And third, for links not enclosed in folders, I’ve converted the favicons — the little 16 pixel squares that Web sites display next to their URL — to grayscale in the off-state; I figure when users roll-over the links, OmniWeb can display the full-color versions.
You’ll also notice, I’ve added a very faint vertical dotted line between the links to help separate them better. I think this prevents them from running together, a problem I’ve had with Safari.
Finally, I’ve added a little Close widget to the far left of the favorites bar. Now, I know that this is absolutely the wrong place for such a control, and to be honest, I couldn’t come up with the right place for it. But I really, really want a way of closing a browser tab in addition to the Close widget that the browser tucks in the visual tab drawer (see below for a glimpse of that). OmniWeb’s visual tab drawer is a great innovation, but not having a Close widget somewhere at the top of the window — where Close widgets always reside — can be disorienting.
These buttons have gone out of style, but I find it very, very handy to have a Go button to the right of the location field. Probably on more occasions than the average user, I find myself without a keyboard while using my Mac (I won’t go into why). In those instances, I need to be able to do as much as possible with only a mouse, including pasting URLs into the location field and telling the browser to go to that location. Without a button like the one with the gray arrow I’ve added above, that’s impossible.
Just to the right of that is the now-ubiquitous Google search field. I like it, but I have two quibbles: OmniWeb should swipe Apple’s SnapBack feature — the orange arrow icon I’ve added — which allows you to return instantly to your Google search results regardless of how far you’ve wandered away from them by clicking through various links. And second, the fringing on the field’s edges are cosmetically inelegant (they appear that way on one of my Macs, anyway); here I’ve very quickly cleaned them up.
As I mentioned above, OmniWeb’s visual tab drawer is awesome, even if it does tuck away a tab’s Close widget in a sometimes-inconvenient location. But something else irks me about it: if you have a Flash movie taking up a large part — or all — of a Web page, the thubmnail that OmniWeb produces is essentially blank. My mock-up here shows a thumbnail of Macromedia.com, the top half of which would normally be just a blank gray field because of its generous use of Flash. This is, no doubt, a nontrivial feat that would require some tricky engineering, but to really fulfill the promise of OmniWeb’s innovation, I think it’s a must.
Keep in mind that this was all done ad hoc, thrown together a bit brutishly and no doubt lacking in some measure of thoughtfulness. Mostly, these suggestions just represent the changes that would benefit me, so I’m not saying they’d stand up to any level of serious heuristic evaluations or anything. And they’re certainly not meant to be beautiful, either. When it comes to designing applications — real, desktop-bound applications, not the awkward approximations you see on the Web — there are many, many more skilled designers than me.