Scrolling and Paging Design

Designers must decide, early in the design process, whether to create long pages that require extensive scrolling or shorter pages that will require users to move frequently from page to page (an activity referred to as paging). This decision will be based on considerations of the primary users and the type of tasks being performed. For example, older users tend to scroll more slowly than younger users; therefore, long scrolling pages may slow them down considerably. As another example, some tasks that require users to remember where information is located on a page may benefit from paging, while many reading tasks benefit from scrolling.

Generally, designers should ensure that users can move from page to page as efficiently as possible. If designers are unable to decide between paging and scrolling, it is usually better to provide several shorter pages rather than one or two longer pages. The findings of usability testing should help confirm or negate that decision.

When scrolling is used, a Web site should be designed to allow the fastest possible scrolling. Users only should have to scroll through a few screenfuls, and not lengthy pages. Designers should never require users to scroll horizontally.

Eliminate Horizontal Scrolling

Guideline: Use an appropriate page layout to eliminate the need for users to scroll horizontally.

Comments: Horizontal scrolling is a slow and tedious way to view an entire screen. Common page layouts including fluid and left-justified may require some users to scroll horizontally if their monitor resolution or size is smaller than that used by designers.

Facilitate Rapid Scrolling While Reading

Guideline: Facilitate fast scrolling by highlighting major items.

Comments: Web pages will move quickly or slowly depending on how users elect to scroll. Some users click on the arrows at the ends of the scroll bar, which can be slow but does allow most information to be read during the scrolling process. Other users drag the scroll box, which tends to be much faster. When the scroll box is dragged, the information may move too fast on the screen for users to read prose text, but they can read major headings that are well-designed and clearly placed. Keep in mind that older users (70 and over) will scroll much more slowly than younger users (39 and younger).

Use Scrolling Pages for Reading Comprehension

Guideline: Use longer, scrolling pages when users are reading for comprehension.

Comments: Make the trade-off between paging and scrolling by taking into consideration that retrieving new linked pages introduces a delay that can interrupt users’ thought processes. Scrolling allows readers to advance in the text without losing the context of the message as may occur when they are required to follow links.

However, with pages that have fast loading times, there is no reliable difference between scrolling and paging when people are reading for comprehension. For example, one study showed that paging participants construct better mental representations of the text as a whole, and are better at remembering the main ideas and later locating relevant information on a page. In one study, paging was preferred by inexperienced users.

Scroll Fewer Screenfuls

Guideline: If users are looking for specific information, break up the information into smaller portions (shorter pages).

Comments: For many Web sites, users deal best with smaller, well-organized pages of information rather than lengthy pages because scrolling can take a lot of time. Older users tend to scroll much more slowly than younger users. One study found that Internet users spend about thirteen percent of their time scrolling within pages. Even though each event takes little time, cumulative scrolling adds significant time.