Infinite scroll: Hero or villain?

In November, I attended Usability Week ran by Nielsen Norman Group. One of the sessions I attended focussed on key usability findings from a number of studies ran over the past year. As part of the presentation, the speaker (Hoa Loranger) talked about how often interactions and design decisions that ‘trend’ on the web test poorly with the end-user.

Personally, I haven’t been a huge fan of one specific trend for a while now… Infinite Scroll. If you’re not familiar with the term Infinite Scroll, the basic functionality is that, as the user scrolls through content, more content is loaded automatically.

Infinite Scroll was initially used primarily for social media sites, where users would typically scan through large amounts of content. It provided a nice, responsive experience. No more waiting for pages to load, and no ugly pagination at the top/bottom of the page.

This behaviour quickly began to trend, and many top e-commerce retailers jumped on the band-wagon and used it in product search results.

When done well, Infinite Scroll makes for a pleasant user experience, however when done poorly, it causes confusion and frustration for the user.

My biggest gripe with infinite scrolling is the loss of ‘control’ for the user. With good old-fashioned pagination, the user knew exactly how many products would appear per page, how many pages of products there were to search through, and roughly (depending on the user’s memory) which page a specific product of interest appeared on (the “Mental location” of an item). Infinite scroll removes all three of these conveniences.

There are a number of other flaws with infinite scrolling:

  • The browser scroll bars are no longer a true indication of the length of the page.
  • It’s exhausting for the user… when will it end?
  • The user quickly loses his/her position in the page.
  • Newly loaded items are distracting resulting in fewer clicks.
  • The footer becomes unreachable… what if the user only wants to view the footer?

When implemented intelligently, infinite scroll can perform relatively well. Twitter did a great job on their mobile version.

  • Clearly indicating where in the page new items had been loaded.
  • Giving the user a button to ‘Load more tweets’.

Conclusion

The aim of this post wasn’t to convince you not to use infinite scroll, but rather to get you to stop and think about the effectiveness of a trending design pattern/interaction/behaviour before implementing on your website. As ever, think about and test with your users; they are unique to you and your business.

References

Smashing Magazine – Infinite Scrolling: Let’s get to the bottom of this

Nielsen Norman Group – Infinite scrolling is not for every website

This post was written by Chris Tyrrell

This post was written by Chris Tyrrell

Managing Director

Currently focused on business development, team growth & progression and setting the culture of the company.

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