Google Chrome — on reflection

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

So, it’s a cou­ple of days since the launch of the first beta of Google’s new brows­er, Chrome, and the hyper­bole has died down a lit­tle. After using it for a few days, I want to look in a lit­tle more detail at some of its fea­tures — more specif­i­cal­ly, its inter­face and usabil­i­ty. Luck­i­ly, Google have pro­vid­ed user expe­ri­ence doc­u­men­ta­tion (for Chromi­um, the open source project) to make this easier.

The stall is set out on the front page of the doc­u­men­ta­tion, with two key statements:

We think of Chromi­um as a tabbed win­dow man­ag­er or shell for the web rather than a brows­er appli­ca­tion. We avoid putting things into our UI in the same way you would hope that Apple and Microsoft would avoid putting things into the stan­dard win­dow frames of appli­ca­tions on their oper­at­ing systems.

Chromi­um should feel light­weight (cog­ni­tive­ly and phys­i­cal­ly) and fast.

Tabs

Mov­ing the tabs above the address bar, and using a lighter shade of blue to match the bar, does well to give the impres­sion that each tab is a sep­a­rate enti­ty; this is actu­al­ly one of my favourite fea­tures of the user inter­face. How­ev­er it’s not with­out its prob­lems, as the post 10 rea­sons Fire­fox won’t be wor­ried about Chrome points out; when mul­ti­ple tabs are opened, there’s no way to see what they relate to. I can’t see this hap­pen­ing too often, but it’s an issue nonetheless.

Downloads

My sec­ond favourite fea­ture of the UI is the down­loads bar; unlike the default of Fire­fox, for exam­ple, it’s unob­tru­sive and well inte­grat­ed, open­ing in a shelf along the bot­tom of the brows­er instead of a new win­dow over the cur­rent tab. A large arrow appears briefly to show you where the down­loads bar appears, and a faux-drop­down presents you with actions when you click on it.

Status Bubble

The least effec­tive area of the UI, for me. After tak­ing the deci­sion to remove the sta­tus bar, the Chrome team had to come up with a way to dis­play link des­ti­na­tions; their Sta­tus Bub­ble is a good solu­tion in prin­ci­ple, but in prac­tice is too small and too dis­creet, and the light grey text on a pale blue back­ground is hard to read on a bright screen.

Over-all look and feel

I think they’ve done a good job with the visu­al design. The stat­ed aim was to make the brows­er area unob­tru­sive, and while that’s not been 100% suc­cess­ful, it has been par­tial­ly achieved; Fire­fox’s grey chrome looks impos­ing next to Chrome’s pale equiv­a­lent. I like the way the options have been hid­den away, remov­ing the menu bar which has been around since the ear­ly days of Netscape.

It must be remem­bered that this is still a pre-release ver­sion of the brows­er, and I’ve no doubt that more changes will be imple­ment­ed in future ver­sions; even so, it’s obvi­ous that a lot of time and care has been spent on get­ting the inter­face right. While a lot of these fea­tures are avail­able in cur­rent browsers already, the UI team have done a good job in tak­ing the best and com­bin­ing them with some sol­id design principles.

Inter­est­ing fac­toids: The orig­i­nal design used the gold­en ratio, and was inspired by The Design­ers Repub­lic’s work on WipE­out.

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