How often has this happened: you’re reading Wikipedia, click another article (or two), then forget where you came from?

Human short-term memory is bad at keeping track of browsing history. (We need help.)

Web browsers are perfectly good at tracking history, and they do. The problem is: they don’t show it. Browsers just show you a “back” arrow.

What if the back button told you where it went, instead of just saying “”?

Browsers have had these uninformative back buttons since IE 1.0, without much change. But iOS design patterns suggest a better way. On iOS, apps show you where you came from.

When navigating within an app, the back button tells you what screen you came from.
When navigating between apps, the back button tells you what app you came from.

This isn’t even some secret wisdom, known only on iOS.

Amazon.com shows where you came from, if it was somewhere else on Amazon.com.

Some websites show you “breadcrumbs”, telling you where you came from, as you navigate around the site. But when you navigate between sites, then you’re lost!

The browser could easily help you with this act of virtual “wayfinding”. It just needs to show you where you came from. Here’s what that could look like (sketches by http://hollyshisler.com).

This concept sketch shows back and forward buttons, which have been expanded to include the title of the page you will navigate to, when clicked.
With this new design, the click-and-hold menu no longer needs to repeat the ability to go back one level; that is taken care of on the button itself.

This titled button design comes at the cost of more screen real-estate, but, that cost is not disproportionate to the value of the back button. In a study of 215k users, Mozilla found that the back button is the most widely-used element in the whole Firefox interface (https://blog.mozilla.org/ux/2012/06/firefox-heatmap-study-2012-results-are-in/). Given this fact, it’s actually beneficial to increase the size of the back button, because that will make it easier for users to press it (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitts%27s_law).


This UX design concept was a collaboration with Holly Shisler—thanks!