The Scourge of Scrolling

The web and mobile UI have established a new scene for drastic, dramatic and minimalist user interfaces. Some interfaces benefit from it, and some interfaces have their sins (intrusive branding, clutter or ads) magnified. But both web and mobile UI are heavy on scrolling. Mobile because there's only so much you can fit on screen, and you can't make things too small before they are too hard to tap; web because the web was made for documents and long texts, and that's how you read them.

Sometimes, a scrolling list is just what you need. And sometimes you need a scrolling list of options or alternatives or items within your user interface. But if you have the option, your user interface should be fixed. It should be laid out, with things in specific places for particular reasons. Grouped by subject or rough order of operations. Separated by lines or into tabs, to present a digestable amount of options that each connect or relate to each other. And yes, adaptive to screen orientation, font sizes and bright/dark modes, by all means.

The alternative is pouring every option, every user interface control out onto the screen, a flow-layout algorithm the only guide, making the primary navigational aid scrolling-and-looking, scrolling-and-looking, and hoping you find whatever you're looking for. The alternative is abusing a visual language that suffices for digesting words, but in the service of making sense of all of them together. Every check box, every option, every button is its own idea, and the human mind needs all the help it can get to put them in context.

If you can always scroll, ask yourself if you could arrange your user interface with more intent. Respect your user interface, respect your user, and avoid letting necessary compromises in constrained environments bleed into places where you have the real estate and dynamic range to do a much better job. Your user interface is a thing, and things should be what they are – intentional, predictable and dependable.

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