Why did Firefox 3 modify the forward and back button?
Historical research into browsing activity shows the back button was clicked about 35.7% of the time; hyperlinks being the only thing clicked more often (45.7%). This research was conducted in 1994 by Catledge and Pitkow.
Since that time the web has changed significantly. Research in this area is limited, which is surprising due to the popularity of modern web browsers. The most recent study I found, Weinreich, Obendorf, Herder and Mayer [2004-2005] suggests modern web site design has minimized the need for the back button. New browser features like tabbed browsing, new programming techniques and better site navigation have changed the way we navigate the web.
According to Weinreich, Obendorf, Herder and Mayer, the back button has decreased in usage from 35.7% to 14.3%. My informal study suggests this number has decreased even more. I find myself and those I polled for this article, opening tabs or windows instead of maintaining a single window and using the back button.
Esthetically, I like the look of the larger button and its reset style, but I feel it is distracting to the browsing experience. When I am viewing popular websites like cnn.com or the nytimes.com it becomes a dominate element for my eye.
The functionality is obvious and well executed once activated, but I am still wondering why they choose to make it so LARGE and contrasting by default?