Posts Tagged 'Web'

Usability Back to Basics: Should Links Open in New Windows?

Let me preface this post with the admission that I am not a professionally trained web designer. I have had experience designing web-based learning materials and have knowledge and exposure to Usability and User Experience (UX). Some of the past organizations I have worked for held UX as a primary goal in producing good products. I am still very committed to learning how to provide the most user-friendly solutions to the content I deliver. Happier users are more productive workers.


  1. Should website links to external sites open in new windows?
  2. If so, how do you differentiate links on a site to external pages to links that point back (internally) to the site?

I wanted to do some research on the questions above to help provide answers but also to solve a problem I am facing with a website I have inherited. This site, which I vaguely referenced this site in a previous post, needs a major overhaul starting with a card sort, but the immediate need is to update some of the more visited pages with current information.

The site was created as a hub to connect learners with other content both within and outside of the site. Therefore,the site is linked to both internal and external resources and each page has multiple links. Sometimes dozens of links.*  Returning to the two questions above, I found the camp somewhat divided on opening in a new browser:


YES, open in a new window


NO, do NOT open in a new window

After reading the advice and developer discussions on the sites above as well as additional resources, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will continue to keep external pointing links pointed to opening in new browsers, because they are reference to content outside of our own.  I’m also leaning to proposal #1 below to help guide or teach users where to go.

My proposed solutions to fixing the page content would be as follows:

  1. Train users where to expect internal pointing links vs. external pointing links. If possible keep the internal pointing links together in 1 section at the top of the page. Links that point to an external site are kept in a second section. There are no explicit instructions that warn users, but eventually repeat users learn that anything they click at the top of the page points to the same site, but links on the bottom half are external links. They start to expect the behavior.
  2. Give the users a choice. Have the current link open in the same browser, but provide an icon that allows them to open in a new browser. While this seems like the politest option, from a web developers perspective it is the most labor intensive. Also, it will me you will have to update links in two places.
Proposed temporary solution to web page design.

Proposed temporary solution to web page design.

* I have to resist the desire to say that such hub sites are NOT helpful  to users because their architecture is often not based on personal user experiences.



Accessibility Discussion: Informal Learning in Action

One of the lectures I attended this afternoon was canceled. An astute member of the audience stood up and decided that he would probe folks in the room about what they already knew about accessibility. He probably realized that there would be people in the audience who were passionate about the subject and he wanted to hear what they had to share.

Different people shared their definitions and experiences with trying to make their online courses accessible. In the end we walked away with a number of interesting thoughts and resources.

One woman shared a video of her experience in testing a site with someone who was visually impaired. The student was working with a website that had the ‘narrator’ on. They were using the mouse to scroll over items on the page. You could see the student’s frustration as you heard the narrator describe every item on the page. There were too many elements.

It actually made me think that creating pages with simple and shorter navigation is much more accessible than having multiple elements in a left-hand menu.  Also, providing some real estate between objects on a page might help the visually impaired find or move around a page much more easily.

In listening to the conversation, I gathered that several of the people there were frustrated with their efforts to make things truly accessible and 508 compliant. Many were most likely running into faculty or developers who didn’t see the value or simply didn’t understand what accessibility and true 508 compliance meant.

Here are a few of the notable resources that were shared (that I recorded):

Please note, I got many of these sites on my own after just listening to the conversation and looking them up on my own.

I felt that it was an incredibly valuable discussion; in fact, it was one presentation/session where I actually learned a great deal because I was learning from my peers. I mentioned this to an older gentleman who was sitting near me, and he only commented that he wasn’t sure what “was garbage” and what “was not garbage” from all that was shared and discussed. It occurred to me that he probably wanted ‘an expert’ telling him or lecturing to him rather than relying on the knowledge of his peers.   I simply replied, “But that’s like the nature of the web, you have to look through things and sort of determine this on your own.”

One man’s trash is another person’s treasure. He had a valid point, but in many of the topics shared at tech-conferences like these there is little or no expertise available because the topics are so new. You have to build knowledge or figure it out on your own or with the help of others. Is this a generational thing wanting expertise on topics to be fed to you while you passively learn?

Trash can be treasure (interesting art photo of trash - you can click on the image to view the original page it is featured on)

Trash can be treasure (interesting art photo of trash - you can click on the image to view the original page it is featured on)


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