Horizontal scrolling: what’s wrong with it?

On sites like Netflix, programs are organized into rows by category that you can scroll horizontally.

This gives users an overview of each category without having to scroll through all the programs.

This pattern is available, responsive and consistent across all screen sizes. And it’s pretty easy to implement.

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It has many advantages, despite the fact that it has a number of critical disadvantages.

In this article, I will explain them and give advice on how to replace it.

Horizontal scrolling of programs by category

Despite the advantages of this pattern, I still think that horizontal scrolling of content makes the task too difficult.

Zig-zag scrolling around a website can be exhausting, especially for people with motor impairments.

Hiding content should always be a last resort because:

  • increases the likelihood that users will not see it
  • relies more on digital literacy of users
  • usually more time consuming for users

When it comes to performance, content that users don’t see and may ultimately never see loads slowly and wastes data.

How to replace this pattern

Instead, we could just upload the top 4 items in each category.

Horizontal scrolling: what's wrong with it?
Load fewer items and link to each category page

This way the content is not hidden. Easy to navigate to a category; data is not wasted; and you avoid unconventional, time consuming patterns.

However, on small screens there will be a little more vertical scrolling as the items will stack, but I would start with this pattern and see how it performs in research.

I suppose that extra scrolling on small screens will work – things that seem problematic to us may not create problems for users.

After all, scrolling through the categories doesn’t take much effort and can be done really quickly.

But if research shows that this pattern is problematic for users, then I would look for ways to hide content again, but only on smaller screens.

It could be a button that opens more items. Or you can return horizontal scrolling.

“But it will take more clicks.”

Don’t worry that splitting content across pages will increase the number of clicks.

Remember that click-through is a poor indicator of usability.

After all, horizontal scrolling of content on a computer requires much more clicks than going to a special page to view the desired content.

Output

Of all the complex patterns out there, horizontal scrolling seems like a really good pattern.

However, I still think this is too complex a pattern that can be avoided by making pages light by default and using them as a form of progressive disclosure.

This is a boring pattern, but very easy to use.

thanks Amy for editing the article.

Author: Clark Douglas

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