What if you reached for the light switch and ended up turning on your faucet instead? That's what reaching for the Firefox 2 back button is like. Going back one page is not an action a user should think about, yet Firefox 2 does make us stop and think about it, a lot.
The Firefox 2.0 back button is split in twothe arrow is another action that gets in the way.
In Firefox 2, the history button keeps getting in the way of our click back. It frustratingly takes up space in front of the back button. Browser history is a useful feature for jumping back several steps, but pales compared to the mighty back button. As Mozilla designer Alex Faaborg mentions, a web browser would function just fine for most people if it only had a back button and URL field. These are the two most important features users need in order to interact with the web. A usable web browser interface should work within this constraint.
Firefox 2's interface missed this ball by trying to inject an extra feature too close to a critical one. The effect is jarring, you expect one thing and you feel interrupted by another.
Now in Firefox 3.0 beta, Mozilla's design team responded to this problem and even found fresh opportunity. Faaborg, User Experience Designer on the 3.0 project, wrote an extensive piece in November documenting their design thinking early on. He presents some clever design work here and shares several of the visuals the team worked with. Their justification for the back button change was twofold:
1. The back button is "a really important button" that should be easier to see and hit with your cursor.
2. They wanted to create a unique visual identity for the application, something 'iconic' like Mickey Mouse or the iPod.
It's fascinating that Mozilla would try to use a design element they neglected in their previous release to distinguish their product's brand moving forward. Whether or not they're successful in this second goal, theirs is an example of how putting users' needs first can not only solve a problem, but improve upon what went wrong and open up new opportunity for a business.
They listened to their users. They didn't need an exciting new feature, but refined a boring old one that happens to be core to any good web browsing experience.