Thu 06 Jan
At work we had a debate late in the day today about whether the links to projects in our portfolio should, when clicked upon, open up in a new browser window. My feeling is that, no, they should not, citing various usability recommendations against the practice (more here and here), and also the fact that the way the Web is evolving, popping up new windows is a practice most often used in hard-sell situations (insert links to any given hard core pornography site here).
Personally, it annoys the heck out of me when a Web site opens up a new window, as I think it’s bad manners and has the feel of amateurishness. But I admit that viewpoint could be just a combination of a skewed, blog-centric view of the Web (few if any weblogs open links in any new windows, by my count) and my own personal capacity for stubbornness.
There’s also the argument to be made that, in a portfolio site (or section of a site), opening new windows is entirely appropriate. The purpose of such a Web page is to provide, as one colleague put it, “a menu” from which users can select work, review it, and to which they then return to repeat the cycle. To send them away to another site in the same browser window may be tantamount to losing them forever — forget usability, it’s a sales failure.
Could be, could be. Though I always feel like users navigate plenty of menus throughout the Web — at Amazon and Del.icio.us, among others — and that most of them don’t spawn new windows, and those same users have no problems using the Back button to get back (like the scroll bar, I’m a firm believer in the idea that users will use these browser features instinctively and inveterately).
The tension here is between usability principles and marketing — between serving as a kind of exemplar of good practices for Web design on our own site, and fulfilling a marketing need to ensure that every customer is retained absolutely and without fail. I don’t really buy spawning new windows as a key to the latter, because I feel like we will tick off more users than we’ll convenience. But I keep coming back to the idea that it is a portfolio site, after all, and also to the fact that I’m a stubborn bastard. So if you have a cogent counterpoint to my own position — especially if you run a portfolio site of your own — please school me, yo.