On Scrolling – Three Things to Avoid

By , User Experience Director

Dec10_Scrolling

Outside the interactive industry, there is a lot of controversy regarding whether or not users like to scroll. “The Fold” is still being thrown around a lot during meetings, even though the landscape has changed so much over the last ten years that the traditional definition of “The Fold” no longer even exists.

Let’s put this to rest.  The explosion of devices has created hundreds of different folds, and it’s impossible to optimize for them all.  Users scroll.  Almost always.  The past several years of interactive technology and touch-based interaction has taught nearly every user group across the board that scrolling is the primary interaction method for websites and content apps.  As long as the content and context are appropriate for the user and they’re following appropriate tasks, users have no problems scrolling to discover and interact with more content.

We’ve found this to be true for nearly every project we’ve worked on, and our usability tests bear this out with most user groups.   However, I do have a few cautionary tales for you – things important to keep in mind to help maximize the usability of your project.

1. The Dreaded False Bottom

It’s important to be careful to avoid the situation where the site content can appear to be finished at common resolutions, with further content down the page separated by a gap.  If that gap is wide and falls right that the bottom of the user’s viewport, it can create the impression that there’s nothing else to see here.  So our recommendation is to to limit the height of content gaps as much as your design will accommodate, so any remaining content peeks up from the bottom to alert the user that there’s more to experience.

2. Horizontal Scrolling

You’ll see this primarily on more artistic or experimental interactive projects, but it does occasionally rear its head on larger brands. If you’re blessed with patient and curious users, they will usually figure out how they work.  But the interaction is unnatural enough that we don’t recommend using these methods except in very specific, well thought through cases.

3. Scroll Jacking

This is my personal white whale.  It’s become trendy to create interactive presentations where the page itself does not scroll, but traditional scrolling controls trigger animations in the current viewing area of the site. Once the animation completes, the scrolling interaction usually switches context and works the way the user expects it to, although it’s often still sluggish and lagging behind the user’s input.  During many of these, scrolling on the mouse ceases to function until they’re finished showing you their animation.

An impassioned plea on behalf of my fellow users: Please quit doing this.

This behavior is a speeding freight train that terminates at the frustration center of the human brain.  The user is expecting something to react to their input, and the site is doing it slowly or refusing to do it at all.  This makes your prominade of beautiful design and animation feel like it’s slow or unresponsive, and that’s probably not the experience you’re shooting for.  The best examples use animations and scrolling that closely mirror and respect the users’ input.

Constant Evolution

So instead of spending time using outdated publishing industry terminology and concepts to debate where to put content, shift your thinking around how compelling your content is, structure it clearly with good indications when more exists, and be sure to watch key pages with tools like CrazyEgg to see which pages are enticing users to read all that content you work hard to create.