I was talking to someone the other day about the new BBC homepage which employs a way to navigate through content from left to right. I thought it was well implemented, and knowing the BBC they would have user tested it thoroughly before making the call.
Anyway, the conversation swiftly moved on to horizontal scrolling and how as a ‘usability dude’ I must hate anything with a horizontal scroll bar. I tried to explain that most of us ‘usability’ people are not against unconventional design, but we just like to see it implemented for the right reasons (because it fits with the user goal) and not for the wrong reasons (because the designer likes it and wants back slaps from peers).
In a talk, Jakob Nielsen once demonstrated his thoughts on horizontal scrolling by nodding his head up and down saying, “vertical scrolling, yes”, then, shaking his head left and right saying, “horizontal scrolling, no”. A clever way to make a point, but digital design is never as simple as just following a rule or guideline from a so called ‘guru’. There are of course situations where a design works perfectly well going against conventions (which are typically outdated anyway). So we ask: When should you use horizontal scrolling?
Of course there’s no easy answer to that question. But when understanding the context of use and the goals users have when using the site it can become easier to decide whether to use horizontal scrolling or not.
Although it’s not something we would always recommend, these examples may suit horizontal scrolling if you are keen on using it:
Interestingly Abercrombie, Hollister, and Superdry have made the decision to move away from horizontal scrolling to vertical. Shopstyle on the other hand have employed horizontal scrolling well on their site.
Like all new functionality, it should be thought through carefully and of course tested with users before taking the plunge.
Here’s some examples from around the web that we’ve found using horizontal scrolling in some way:
What do you think? Do you have any good examples to share?
Damian is our Innovation Director who has 16 years experience in UX working for companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services researching & designing websites, apps, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. With two kids under two he spends his rare free time catching up on lost sleep or immersed in his xbox.