Scroll All You Can

Scrolling, especially on a touch screen, is no longer a dirty word. Back in the days of narrow bandwidth it was important to keep page sizes down: Too much content on a single page slowed its loading time and made users either pace the room or give up entirely.

Now that the technology’s improved, the only consideration left is that of content. Do we want to fill our page (and especially our homepage) with lots of scrollable material?

Content-heavy screens impose a heavy cognitive load on the user. Scrolling lightens this load by giving the content more space.

The prime real estate of any homepage is the area “above the fold” – the things users see without scrolling. So what content should go there, and what should appear below it?

The search box and navigation bar (organized by topic and target audience) should obviously be placed above the fold, as well as the key message the website is trying to convey. With today’s technology you can display a great deal of info on a single screen using liders and floating layers.

The area below the fold is for secondary content including, among other things, a cognitive map to help users who couldn’t navigate the top menus. Planting attractive headlines at the very bottom of your initial screen is a great way to get the user to scroll down.

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The website of chef Meir Adoni’s Mizlala is a great example of creative scrolling. Topics are prioritized well, the content is spread out nicely and the bottom of the first screen will get you scrolling, at least on your first visit.

On the other hand combining scrolling with too much content is a bad idea. Clalit and Meuhedet Health Services are both cautionary examples of this (full disclosure: this author was the architect of the Maccabi Health Services website). If you’re already scrolling, why clog up your website?

When the cognitive load is light and there’s an added value to scrolling, users are  more than willing to keep doing it. It’s hard to argue with the success of Pinterest, where scrolling down the homepage loads user-defined topics (i.e. images) of interest.

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When Not to Scroll

When it limits the user’s control over the content, it’s better to minimize scrolling or avoid it altogether.

When textual search queries come up with thousands of returns it’s better to break up results into pages than let the content scroll forever (you should still allow the user to set the number of results per page). This is due to the mind’s ability to decipher images more easily than text.

Users will also have better control over multi-stage processes when those are broken down using different pages or a tabbed interface.

Even long articles often benefit from breaking them up into subtopics and tabs rather than letting them scroll. When it comes to medical conditions, for example, you can divide the article into general information, symptoms, causes, treatment, etc. (see the Macabbi website) instead of dumping the content into a sprawling, scrolling page (see the Clalit website).

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