A couple of weeks ago when I debuted Shari Steinbach, LLC’s website to a user group on Facebook, one comment stuck out:

“Don’t forget to have all of your links open in different windows so the user can get back to your site.”

I didn’t reply to the comment but have given it a great deal of thought. In all of the websites I’ve designed since 1999, I’ve always set the link to open in the current window. And here’s my reasoning.

During the period 2000 to 2005, I did a lot of in home computer and small business training on how to use the internet. Yes, back then employers wanted their employees to learn how to use the internet. In fact, a major cell phone developer required all of their employees to take forty hours of continuing education. I taught three classes a week on how to “Surf the Internet.” Unfortunately, that gig dried up when the economy went south.

Today, I still work with individuals in their homes who will say to me, “I just don’t know how to get around the internet all that well.” When I first sit down with them I ask them to show me how they navigate around the internet. Quite often it goes like this:

They open the browser they are most comfortable with usually land on an AOL, Google or Yahoo home page. On that page, they type in the search bar where they want to go and hit enter. Once they are finished with that website, they close out of the browser. Then reopen the browser and start all over again.

Kindly, I asked them why they keep closing out of the browser. The next question,

“What a browser?”After I explain what a “browser” is, the most common response I get is,

After I explain what a “browser” is, the most common response I get is,

“Because you have to to get to a new page. That’s why I don’t get this whole internet thing.”

So begins the training on how to use tabs and the back button. Getting them to understand the back button always wins out as it less frustrating for them.

Just to make sure my theories are still correct, I just ask a baby boomer who for the past five years hasn’t bought anything (other than food) before it’s thoroughly searched on the internet the following:

“Do you know what to do when you click on a link and it opens a new tab and you are finished with that page?”

“What’s a tab?”

“When you click on a link and the  web page opens in a new window.”

“I hate that. I’ve learned from experience first look for the arrow up in the upper left-hand corner to see if it’s dark. If it’s not, then I know to click on the “x”  I guess that’s what you are calling a tab. I hate it though because sometimes that takes me back to my Yahoo search page where I didn’t want to go.”

Sometimes I think we need to remember as designers and developers, we have a much deeper understanding of how the web works. For those who grew up and worked in occupations that did not require the use of a computer, or, and yes there are still some out there, that are just getting an iPhone, iPad, smartphone or tablet, navigating the internet can be a confusing place.

For now, I’ll continue my practice of not checking the box “Open in a new window.”

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