I was recently linked to a thoughtful analysis of Chrome’s tab behavior. The article was written a year ago, but the situation is largely-unchanged. As the author notes, UX designers love talking about tabs, so I’ve collected my thoughts and present them here.
First, the analysis is spot-on, with one major exception that I’ll get to shortly. Before that, though, I’ll add one more point in favor to Chrome’s “close-on-the-right” behavior: favicons. Safari doesn’t display favicons at all. This distressed me to the point that when I used Safari as my primary browser, I installed an add-on that added them back in. That’s yet another point for Chrome.
However, the article’s conclusion of striving for “least-funky behavior” doesn’t really take into account just how funky it is for the “close” button to be on the upper right of a window in OS X. I’m with John Gruber on this one: close goes on the left in OS X. He goes into more detail about his thoughts, which articulates my own beliefs better than I could.
I believe this boils down to the frequent trade-off of consistency versus the “best” design. I’ve often run into scenarios where I’ve had to choose between consistency (either inside the application I’m designing, or matching an application to the overall platform it lives in) and what I felt like was the best solution to a design problem. I don’t know if there’s a universal right answer to this question, but I often find my own design sense landing on the side of consistency.
In Chrome’s case, it’s clear that a designer thought about Chrome’s tabs in detail and made a decision to go with what he or she thought was the best flow for the user. The result is a fantastic experience in Windows and a good one in OS X, with some additional funkiness.
I used this analogy to describe my thoughts on the situation to a friend: it’s like if a US city ran some studies and determined that the “best” design for stoplights was the reverse of what we already use. That city then decided to buck the trend and build all their stoplights in the reverse order used in the study. Maybe it makes more sense if someone were to never leave that city, but as soon as you drive to the next city over, it’s disorienting.