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Should links open in new tabs?

No they shouldn’t. Here’s why.

Users like to be in control

Enforcing links to open in new tabs or windows without prior warning goes against the expectation of the user. Users should always be in control of the interface they are interacting with. It is a fundamental of user interface design.

Users rely on an interface to efficiently complete a task. The interface must be consistent with the users expectations to avoid distraction or interruption.
It is important that the user must be able to foresee what will happen when interacting with interface elements. Any deviations from this convention result in a less user-oriented design.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.03.19

As most web designers are power users, they may be more proficient with working with multiple tabs and windows. Including the functionality of links to open in new tabs or windows by default may seem intuitive for someone who works like this regularly, but that is ignoring the technical capabilities of their users. Expecting users to be as technically competent as the creator is unfair. An effective user interface must be as accessible as possible for all users to feel they have full control of their interactions.

Altering the expectation of the user is frustrating and they will begin to blame both themselves and the product.

The “backwards bike” is intentionally designed to defy the consistency of the users expectations and is a perfect analogy for this subject.


If it is a design intention for a link to open in a new tab or window there must be an indication for this alteration in functionality.

Warn the user that the link will open in a new window, either with an icon, an alert, or the href title attribute.

Meet the most compact yet self-evident icon to represent the "opens in new tab/window" function.
Meet the most compact yet self-evident icon to represent the “opens in new tab/window” function.

However, as mentioned in a previous article, icons must be accompanied with text to describe their function. Something simple like “Opens new tab” will suffice.




(These links do not open in a new tab…)

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