Often when working with clients we are asked if “scrolling is bad user experience” (or, actually, sometimes told “it’s bad user experience“). It’s a great question and definitely something to consider. For us, most often it’s a simple answer: “NO, scrolling is NOT bad user experience.” But, it’s also a bit more complicated than that, of course (#simpleiscomplicated).
The notion that scrolling is bad seems to be rooted in print. As a newspaper, you wanted to grab the readers attention by getting your most important content above the fold.
For those of you that have never seen a newspaper before, they are first folded in half vertically and then in half again horizontally. The end result is a square. The final front of the square or final fold, is considered above the fold. It is the first thing a reader sees, whether that be on a shelf, on the driveway or sitting on a park bench.
The idea of above the fold translated well to computers in the early- and mid-nineties, as scrolling was much more of a pain in the ass. You had to click on the scroll bar on the right side, drag it down or keep clicking the arrows to scroll down the page. So obviously, this was bad user experience, and, you better have some really good content down there for me to start clicking and dragging — especially with a mid-nineties mouse (we’re talking about the AOL days here).
Devices changed. Browsers changed. Welcome the mobile era. Welcome more standards based browsers. But for some reason, the belief of “above the fold” and “scrolling is bad” stuck.
Above the Fold?
I ask you, “what is above the fold in web design?”
Is it above the fold on a mobile device? Is it above the fold on a 32″ TV? Is it when a user has their browser landscape, vertical, square?
You see my point. We cannot always clearly determine how a user views and interacts with a website. There are just too many variables. Yes, we can try via various methods to determine the size of their browser, but this takes additional time and testing, which in turn costs more money and then the question becomes, does all that time and money give you any return on investment?
Better. Spend that time and money creating content and a visual hierarchy that will give the user a reason to read beyond “their fold.” Create a clear message, good headlines, and sub-headlines. “Above the fold” is crucial to users deciding whether your page is worth reading. So, focusing on clear messaging and priority content is key. And then let them scroll, scroll, scroll!
There is no fold [part 3]. pic.twitter.com/tlPBLAg1Cn
— Luke Wroblewski (@lukew) December 8, 2014
There is plenty of research and data all leading to the fact that scrolling is actually good user experience. A few highlights that help prove my point (you can see plenty more at UXMyths as they have thoroughly covered the subject)…
- Chartbeat, a data analytics provider, analyzed data from 2B visits and found that “66% of attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold.” – What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong
- “Engaged time peaks just above the fold,” according to research by Luke Wroblewski based on 25M sessions.
- Mobile: half of users start scrolling after 10 seconds, 90% after 14 seconds (how about them apples).
- The design agency Huge measured scrolling in a series of usability tests and found “that participants almost always scrolled, regardless of how they are cued to do so – and that’s liberating.” – Everybody Scrolls
See more at UXMyths.
Give the user a reason to scroll, and they will scroll. So in theory, yes, above the fold is important, actually critical, but that does not mean everything needs to be above the fold. Users scroll. It’s how we have learned to interact with our devices.
Scrolling is conventional.
Think for a moment, what if all stop signs at intersections we’re different shapes? Probably would make for some pretty messy roadways.
Users need conventions. It helps them interact with websites and not be left in a state of confusion. Of course, there are cases and instances when you may want to break conventions depending on your goals. And, just because you use conventions, does not mean that your site is not unique or you can’t stay true to your brand — the familiarity of conventions, helps users quickly connect with your site and understand how to navigate your site. Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Design writes, “[a]s a rule, conventions only become conventions if they work” — it might be good to think twice before reinventing the wheel.
Scrolling is Pretty Cool Nowadays
As web developers and designers we can do very cool things as the user scrolls throughout a page and a site — more interactive than when making them click from page to page. Little easter eggs throughout the page as the user scrolls create visual interest, allow for introducing new topics, call attention to particular content and help focus attention on calls to action (business goals).
So don’t be afraid of the scroll! Users want it, they need it and they love it!