Archive | December, 2011

A UX perspective on Horizontal scrolling

12 Dec

BBC horizontal navigation

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).

 

Vertical scrolling, Yes. Horizontal scrolling, No.

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 There are of course situations where a design works perfectly well going against conventions (which are typically outdated anyway).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.

 

When using horizontal scrolling can be beneficial to users

Although it’s not something we would always recommend, these examples may suit horizontal scrolling if you are keen on using it:

  • Displaying a variety of visual images i.e. a photography site or design portfolio
  • Displaying information in a large visual area that is not easy to see at a glance – i.e. think of a map or Google’s street map which employs horizontal scrolling to good effect
  • Displaying discreet sections or slides of information – Tablets and smartphone apps employ the notion of swiping and when this is used to move from one screen from left to right it can work really well and feel completely natural. Similarly applications such as Slideshare work well in the horizontal plane (although it is arguable that this constitutes scrolling)
  • Displaying a large catalogue of products or items where scrolling horizontally could display different product categories

 

Why you should be careful in using it

  • Most mice have a vertical scrolling wheel, few have an easy way to scroll horizontally. This means most users have to manually operate the scroll mechanism. This is slowly changing with smart mice like the Apple Magic Mouse but may still take some time before they’re mainstream. In fact if you consider physical ergonomics, it’s much easier to move a finger up and down, than it is left to right. Thumbs and hands on the other hand are much more adept at a horizontal scrolling motion, so this type of navigation is likely to depend on innovations in gesture interfaces
  • The experience of scrolling horizontally on some sites makes the screen judder and can have that headache inducing feel to the experience
  • Controlling the speed of the scroll can be problematic, with some content whizzing past and others taking forever. Giving users the right amount of control can be difficult to get right
  • We’re so used to reading left to right within the confines of a page where we make our way slowly downwards, introducing a horizontal scroll could break a fairly rigid western convention so should be used with care when reading is a core part of the user journey

 

Examples around the web

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?

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

Santa Centred Design

8 Dec

Santa's been working too hard

Santa’s job gets more difficult every year. Less and less kids write to him making the elve’s lives more difficult to keep up with the latest toy trends, the population grows more each year making Santa work harder, and more and more houses are opting for wood burners or no chimneys at all.

This year Mrs Claus contacted us to make Santa’s life a little easier when he’s on deliveries. Of course we were more than happy to help in the hope we would make the Nice list this year.

 

Mrs Claus was worried about Santa

Mrs Claus was our client, but Santa was our user so we first had to establish the aims for the project and the client’s requirements. In our meetings with Mrs Claus it became clear why she wanted our help:

  • Every year she’s up all night worrying about Santa and whether he’s safe – she wanted a way to keep track of his whereabouts without calling him all the time
  • She’s worried about Santa’s growing waistline so she wanted a way to remind Santa not to eat so many mince pies on his rounds
  • She was also worried that Santa should be careful not to take too many sips of sherry on his visits
  • Her primary concern was that the route the elves draw up for Santa was getting more and more complex each year and she was worried Santa would get lost and miss deliveries

 

Santa’s requirements

Before coming up with a solution we wanted to talk with the user of anything we designed, so we had a chat with Santa to understand more about the context of use. It quickly became clear that he had a different list of requirements:

  •  He wanted to keep his sightings to a minimum. With the growth of Facebook and Twitter in recent years, he was worried that he was becoming increasingly vulnerable to people being able to track him
  • Rather than a route planner or sat nav, Santa would prefer a pre-defined chimney stops so he could go from chimney to chimney with the route already planned out
  • Santa has been struggling to remember the sleeping places for the scary dogs, which houses had difficult roofs to land on, which chimneys were too narrow and so on. He wanted a simple way to receive all that information as he left one chimney on the way to the next
  • Santa sometimes gets bored with listening to the Reindeer bickering so wanted a way to set up and manage his playlists
  • Santa need a way to track his time and see how he was progressing with his delivery plan to make sure he remained on track
  • Santa needed some clearly marked stops where he and the Reindeer could have a ‘comfort break’

 

In coming up with our solution we had to take into account the context of use:

  • It would be cold so anything he used would have to be easily operated outdoors with gloves on – i.e. large buttons
  • Santa would need a sleigh mounted device as well as a mobile device to update and consult whilst down a chimney

 

Wireframes for Santa’s interfaces

We took away all these requirements and wireframed a solution using a tablet device mounted to the sleigh console as well as a smart phone device which synched to it when Santa was on the ground. In phase 2 we will look at a separate monitoring interface for Mrs Claus and the elves to track Santa.

 

Santa’s Sleigh Mounted Tablet Interface

  • Sightings alert  which monitors Facebook, Twitter and SMS chatter
  • Next chimney stop with suggested landing places and up-to-date house intelligence
  • Playlist controls
  • Local time and delivery progress monitor
Santa's sleigh mounted wireframe

Sleigh mounted interface - click for fullscreen

 

Santa’s Smartphone Interface

  • Checklist to tick off deliveries as he goes
  • Ability to post updates to house intelligence including chimney dimensions, dog sleeping places…
  • Mince pie and sherry sips update reminder – with an external breathalyser (we felt this was less priority so have planned this for phase 2)
Santa's smartphone interface

Santa's smartphone interface - click for fullscreen view

 

Next steps – Prototype testing with Santa

We’re having to move fast on this project as you can imagine. We’ve only got a couple of weeks left! So now we’ve created the wireframes we need to test them in a prototype with Santa on a few test runs out in the sleigh with his gloves on. We’re looking at stitching finger and thumb pads into the tips of his gloves first. After some user tests we’ll refine our prototype and then start work on the visual design. We’ll keep you posted on how we get on. Wish us luck!

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees