We read from left to right, or in some culture from right to left. Even when almost every other thing pretty much divides us, in that sense at least we are united. Book pages are turned from side to side, news ticker flow from one side to the other and even fictional Italian plumbers move from left to right to save their princesses. The universe clearly intended for mankind to live horizontally as much as vertically and yet for years we’ve been conditioned to scroll up and down as we browsed through pictures of your friend’s breakfast, what gives?
Honestly, I blame the mouse wheel for this. Ever since that little apparatus was invented in the 1980s, the general public has been conditioned to accept that this vertical scrolling is how life should be lived. Now that mobile internet usage have finally eclipsed desktop traffic, I think it’s high time we put an end to the tyranny of horizontal scrolling and start thinking about bringing the use of horizontal scrolling in web design as God have always intended.
Make horizontal scrolling great again
Yes I know I’m going for the low-hanging fruit there but after a decade of being sidelined as a major no-no in web design, I believe there has never been a better time for intrepid designers to dip their toes in the practice of horizontal scrolling. I mean sure, you might think to yourself ‘why fix something that was never broken in the first place?’ but I’m guessing we were doing completely fine with our iTunes purchases before Spotify came along and showed us that streaming is the way to go.
My point is, just because there’s nothing noticeably problematic about the status quo, this doesn’t mean that sticking with what is accepted is always the best course of action. Sometimes, ruffling a few feathers might exactly be what your business needs to get ahead of the competition. To wit, what the 45, or as we like to call him now, Individual #1, did in the US Election in 2016. True, his presidency is pretty much one crisis after another but he did won the election and that’s something we can give him credit for.
Of course, when you’re trying something that hasn’t been widely accepted, there are going to be some hurdles you have to overcome. With horizontal scrolling, those hurdles can be even more threatening as it wasn’t that long ago that horizontal scrolling is considered verboten in web design. Changes to the status quo are rarely easy but there are some things you could do in order to make horizontal scrolling easier to swallow.
Use subtle visual indicators to indicate the existence of horizontal scrolling
Try opening the Netflix app on your phone and notice how each carousel has a subtle outline of additional poster at the edge to indicate that there’s more contents to be accessed? Netflix’s method is just one of the many, many ways company use visual indicators to indicate the presence of horizontal scrolling. The easiest way is to display a simple arrow or a scroll bar to indicate this but if you’re feeling adventurous, you could also try and do what Netflix did.
As I’ve repeatedly said, horizontal scrolling is still relatively uncommon so unlike the idea of vertical scrolling which is pretty much second nature for anyone that regularly access the internet, using a visual indicator is necessary to give users a heads-up on horizontal scrolling. Assume makes an ass of you and me so never take it for granted that your users will be observant enough to know that it is possible for them to scroll left and right to access more content.
Use horizontal scrolling selectively
For example, one area where you’re bound to see horizontal scrolling is in the world of e-commerce. Netflix for example uses horizontal scrolling to show you contents from a single specific category in a single horizontal line while other categories exist as a separate horizontal line. Science fiction & fantasy exists in a single line for example while underneath that category you might see comedy specials.
Other e-commerce platforms might use horizontal scrolling to show you pictures of the product from a different angle or for displaying a list of similar products to the one you’re currently seeing. At the end of the day, horizontal scrolling is a tool and like every other tool in existence, it’s more effective in certain cases than in others. If you’re dealing with a large block of text for example, horizontal scrolling is probably not the most ideal to use.
A neat tool to be used for a special occasion
One of the things I hear often when it comes to horizontal scrolling is that it can feel a little gimmicky at times, which I don’t agree with but if you do feel that way then why not use it as a gimmick? Every now and then, perhaps when you’re running a special promotion or during holiday events, you might get the idea of making a dedicated page within your website for special occasions. Film and video game companies do this all the time with upcoming projects so why not do this but using horizontal scrolling as the centerpiece?
If you can’t find a functional use for horizontal scrolling then try to experiment with it in a dedicated section of your website. This way, you don’t have to concern yourself with any usability considerations and/or limitations and could use horizontal scrolling in whatever way you wish. Think of this as an exercise to figure out the best way horizontal scrolling could be used and who knows, you might came up with an idea that could actually be implemented in your website.