Increasing the usability of Firefox’s Back button
30 June, 2011 § 11 Comments
The Back button is one of the most used features of the Firefox chrome. Based on a 117,000-person study ran in 7 days of July 2010, the Back button was used by 95% of users and clicked over 105 times on average.
The design of the standard Firefox theme changed between Firefox 3.6 and Firefox 4 towards a more streamlined user interface. This has brought with it some great usability improvements, but one of the nice usability features of Firefox 3.6 regressed in the new theme. In Firefox 3.6, clicking to the left the Back button would still bring the user back to the previous page they were at.
The behavior in Firefox 3.6 was justified by Fitts’ Law. To quote Wikipedia, Fitts’ Law “predicts that the time required to rapidly move to a target area is a function of the distance to the target and the size of the target.” The back button sits right next to the edge of the browser. Ideally, this allows a user to quickly move their cursor to the side of the screen and have the cursor stop near the Back button.
If we can push the clickable area of the Back button to the edge of the browser, then we can increase the size of the target enormously.
In Fitts’ Law terms, the amount of time that it takes a user to hit the back button drastically reduces with a subtle change like this.
I have submitted a patch to increase the clickable area of the Back button. I hope to get it landed in time for the
Firefox 7 Firefox 8 release train.
Special shoutout: This graphic was made with Snagit, the Swiss Army knife of screen capture tools. Made by TechSmith (my former employer) in mid-Michigan, the product comes with a free 30-day trial.
Update: I was unable to get a quality patch completed in time for the Firefox 7 release. I hope to land this patch in time for the Firefox 8 release (September 2011).