It’s a while that I’m following the design process behind one of the greatest opensource projects around, Mozilla Firefox. In december 2009 Mozilla Labs opened a new contest asking the community to try redesign the home tab, the evolution of the starting page currently present on many browsers.

I think that the home folder is an interesting topic because it’s very narrow in its scope but it has a critical role in enhancing the user experience, both for first time users and power users. It’s one of those things that should be transparent: so easy and so fast that you don’t even notice it’s there.

In fact I’ve designed many times a local ‘start page’ for my own use, usually in HTML on my local server. I think that they were pretty good, but a few years ago I noticed that the real value could come from some form of integration with the browser, and that the bookmarks were the first element that required integration.

As you might guess, it was no surprise for me to see the start pages of Opera, Safari and Chrome, well designed in many ways, while at the same time I think they’re missing a real appeal for power users.

Things I don’t want in my home

There are a few things that I think should be avoided in the home tab:

  1. Any search tool: the location bar – or awesome bar in Firefox – exists for a reason. One of its core roles is allowing search (and I think that the double location + search boxes should be unified). So, my home tab shouldn’t include any search field.
  2. Any complex interaction: the home tab must be fast to load, fast to use. It isn’t a dashboard: if I wanted a dashboard I’ll make iGoogle or Netvibes my home page.
  3. Any unrequested automation: what if you visit a website that you don’t want others to see? And what if automatically it appears on your home tab, because it’s one of the most used websites? Argh, it could be a real problem for many (think about porn…).
  4. Any new tool to handle: I already have bookmarks, search and external services. I don’t want to manage another tool. It should be something automatic or a view on something I’m already using.
  5. Anything with a mood: I think that tools must be neutral at the beginning, and I could customize them afterwards.

Things I do want in my home

I don’t have great visions about a browser home page, but a few ideas are:

  1. I want my bookmarks: the interface should be a specific view on my existing bookmarks. More integration the better.
  2. I want a visuospatial reference: I’d love to have items placed on a 2D space instead of inside a list, so I could train my memory to locate them faster.

The Foldable Home Tab Concept

I did some research looking at how people around me used the bookmarks and the home tab but of course a proper user test should be done in order to see real usage patterns.

To find an idea I started from my personal way of using bookmarks: I’m currently using just the bookmark bar or the location bar, while I don’t use the bookmarks manager almost at all.

My design have a home tab with visuospatial bookmarks that folds into the normal bookmarks bar. Probably a refined version of this idea could avoid a bookmarks manager.

The Mozilla Labs Design Challenge required a video, so here’s my explanation of the concept:

Mozilla Design Challenge Winter’09 – Foldable Home Tab on Vimeo.

What do you think? Would you have done any change or improvement?