Most of us will not argue about the fact that the Internet browser is the most frequently used computer program on our personal computers. Without a browser we would have no route to our online information.
In the past, our browser interfaces were a bit dull however, nowadays, there is no reason why the user should have to tolerate anything lackluster. When it comes to searching for a browser theme, we now have a plethora of design options literally at our fingertips.
Designing and creating browser themes can be a challenging endeavor especially if you are wanting to create a design interface that performs within diverse browsers (Google Chrome, Firefox, and IE for example).
This being said, important consideration must be taken when figuring out your approach for internet browser interface design.
Design Browser Themes
Implications with Different Types of Browser Versions and Operating Systems
Multiple browser types use different graphics in different ways. This also is true for different versions of the same browser for example; many Firefox users still operate in 3.5 even though 4 was introduced a while ago. You will also have to take into account the importance of compliancy. For example, Mozilla creates distinctive versions of Firefox for use on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux. As a designer you will need to keep this mentality with your design of different themes.
Here, is an older but, great example of what Firefox 3.0 looks like in diverse operating systems. Here we see Firefox in Vista, Linux, OS X and WinXP.
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Browser Chrome Limitations
The area of the browser that handles controls and functions is called the browser chrome. This is the space that encompasses the address bar, search bar, menu bar, and all navigation tools. This area is located in the top of the browser screen.
Firefox is above the rest when it comes to browser chrome functionality. This is the reason why a lot of designers start with Firefox and use it as a design platform for the others. If you take a look at IE, you will see that it is much more limited in what can be done in its Chrome area. IE will require a design that can be adjusted to adapt to its more complicated functionality. In result, designers focus on lightweight Persona’s for Firefox. These are less heavy themes that make changes in just the background image, and colors of the theme. Meaning no work is done on button location or design.
Creating a Header Image for Your Browser Theme
The most obvious feature of a Persona is its header image. The image of the header must have the following dimensions: 3000 pixels in width by 200 pixels in height are the best for Firefox. Images must also be a .png or .jpg and never a .gif file. Lastly, make sure that all images in your Persona are no bigger than 300KB; this includes the header and footer image shown below.
See the Japanese Tattoo Persona image and how it is displayed in Firefox 4.0. With the default settings in Firefox, we are only able to see half the image.
Creating a Footer Image for the Browser Theme
Although the footer image is smaller than the header, it is equally relevant. For the footer, you will have to keep the width the same (3000 pixels) however it is only necessary to make the image 100 pixels in height. Like in the header, the footer can only have .png or .jpg formats. When working on the footer, it is important to keep in mind the overall total 300KB size requirement.
Testing is Crucial With Browser Theme Design
Following the creation of the header and the footer, is the testing phase. Firefox gives you the ability to do this on a personal computer, meaning there is no need to upload to a server offsite. Begin by installing the Firefox Personas extension in the browser and be certain that you are able to reach the Personas menu. See the preferences menu for access to ‘offline’ Persona’s.
As a designer, testing should be an obvious step for you as it is crucial in making sure that your images work well with the user interface. After all, we are creating this for the user who wants a browser design that runs smoothly for them. Choose images that are not too convoluted as when there is too much going on visually, it can make the use of main browser elements difficult. These elements include tab titles, web addresses, and search terms which need to be clear and concise for the user. This type of clarity is crucial for functionality across multiple platforms. Check out how your design will be seen in various environments by utilizing Firefox’s built in testing template. This allows you to see what image changes need to be made.
Moving Past Personas
Now you that you have an understanding of Personas, it is time to move on to a more rich and complex design. Personas are fun however, what the user will really enjoy are browser themes they are able to interact with. Take a gander at Firefox’s Colts theme below:
This theme is more complex as it has layered images in the browser’s chrome, and custom menu options that can be seen under the forward and backward navigation buttons and custom user search box.
The degree of design for this type of theme is going to be much more complex than what you will need to create for a Persona (has only a single image). This level of work requires you to attach images on both sides of the browser and because the left covers the right, the browser window is going to be smaller.
What to Keep in Mind When Layering Images in a Browser Theme
When designing a full theme there are some limitations to the use of background and header images. For example your theme is going to be seen in multiple screen resolutions and you need to be sensitive to this. Depending on the size of the user’s monitor, images are going to visually vary. To create a flawless gap in images, use a color that will match the already existing design or a tiled image. You can create really clean design by fading images which refines the color transition into the background. In doing so, the image will look clean at varying resolutions.
A lot of times using a single background image is the way to go. However, if you decide to do this you need to keep in mind that large images have large file sizes. Large file sizes can cause performance problems in the browser and make things very slow for the user.
UI Components and Hard Requirements
UI components are the hard requirements that let the user move through the browser and web. These hard requirements can make the design of a theme difficult. For example, if you choose to use transparent tabs in your design, this may interfere with the clarity of your background image, making locating UI controls a burden.
As a designer, if this is something you are interested in doing, Google has great information on theme design for Google Chrome .
See here, for information on creating custom Persona’s for Firefox.