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The Pros and Cons of Horizontal Scrolling in Web Design

Horizontal scrolling can be a great addition to any website. However, there are a few things to consider when implementing this page navigation method.

A horizontal scrolling website isn't likely the first image you imagine when thinking of traditional web design. In fact, the very thought of a horizontal scroll bar may cause you to feel confused. While adding a scrolling feature to your website isn't an entirely new concept, doing so horizontally may be unique to you.

The use of a horizontal scroll bar, when applied appropriately, can be a highly effective method of sharing creative works and various forms of content. However, there are some considerations to weigh before using it on your website.

Horizontal scrolling explained

With modern website design today, the options are virtually endless if you want to create a unique and exciting page layout. Utilizing horizontal scrolling is one way to showcase content in a distinctive and interesting way. Allowing users to scroll horizontally means revealing content from left to right, as opposed to scrolling from top to bottom.

A horizontal scroller is often used to showcase content that can be scrolled with a simple click and drag or left and right arrow keys. Traditional trackpads can be leveraged to scroll horizontally when swiped sideways. Using horizontal navigation may be ideal for those looking for a fresh concept for their website or an uncommon method of storytelling to share content and products.

Horizontal scrolling vs. vertical scrolling

When it comes to the traditional principles of web design, users typically scroll vertically with a mouse wheel, keyboard keys, or a trackpad. Horizontal scrolling introduces an entirely new method of viewing content or information with built-in scroll bars or directional arrows that go from left to right. Understanding the differences between horizontal vs. vertical scrolling is essential for all web designers today.

Pros of horizontal scrolling

Learning about the advantages horizontal scrolling has to offer can help you determine if you should enable this page navigation method on your own website.

Here are a few of the top benefits:

Effective for showcasing images

One of the most lucrative advantages of horizontal scrolling is the ability to effectively showcase images, video thumbnails, and other highly engaging and interactive pieces of content. Showcasing images using directional arrows or a horizontal scroll bar can save space vertically, leaving more room for the rest of your website's content. Displaying pictures and content with this scrolling method is optimal for one-page website designs.

Provides a unique user experience

When you enable horizontal scrolling on your website, you'll provide users with a truly unique experience. Horizontal scrolling isn't considered standard or traditional by professional web designers today. While it's rarely used, it's gaining popularity and can be compelling for branding and marketing purposes if done right.

Seek out website design inspiration by visiting websites that use a horizontal scrollable container or inline-block to display content. Compare the sites of your competitors to find inspiration. This will help you create an impressive user experience for your website's visitors.

Seamlessly showcases different categories

Another potential use of a horizontal scroll bar on a website is the ability to display different categories seamlessly. This can be useful for digital magazines and media websites.

Digital streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and more utilize horizontal scrolling to improve their application's UX and UI. By showcasing different categories of movies and TV shows horizontally, these providers can display many more options to viewers without cluttering an entire page with content.

Enhanced visual storytelling

Storytelling is one of the best ways to use a horizontal scroll bar. Whether you're just introducing a brand for the first time or looking to promote a particular product, you can do so when you implement a horizontal scrolling scrollable container on your website.

Telling a story using a horizontal scroll bar provides an opportunity to do it linearly, from left to right, which is like reading a book. When you utilize this page navigation approach, you're helping guide visitors through the narrative you're attempting to convey.

Cons of horizontal scrolling

Unfortunately, horizontal scrolling isn't extremely common or widely accepted because this form of navigation isn't the default option when building a website. Understanding the potential drawbacks of horizontal scrolling can help you determine whether this is the right element for your site.

Strays away from tradition

When a typical visitor accesses a website, they do so intending to scroll vertically. Vertical navigation has been a part of traditional web design since the beginning of the internet. Integrating the option to scroll horizontally can be jarring to some, causing them to exit your website completely. If you choose to use a horizontal scrolling feature, keep track of your website's bounce rate to decide whether or not it's helping you retain or deter visitors.

It's easy to miss

Guiding visitors to your content, products, or business pages is integral to UX and UI design.

When using a horizontal scroll bar, there's a chance that your visitors will miss your content altogether. Because horizontal scrolling isn't considered natural when browsing a desktop or smartphone, users may not immediately recognize this navigation method.

Potential accessibility issues

Unfortunately, using a horizontal scroller can also pose potential accessibility risks and issues. Understanding the differences between adaptive vs. responsive design can help integrate a horizontal scroll bar, container, or in-line box.

Adaptive design involves creating multiple websites suitable for various devices, such as desktop computers, tablets, and smartphones. Alternatively, responsive design is an approach that responds to specific devices, providing a different output with the same overall layout.

High interaction cost

The use of horizontal scrolling has a high interaction cost. In UX and UI terms, this means that it requires much more thinking and action on the user's behalf to promote engagement. When a user visits a website with strict vertical navigation, there's no additional effort required to learn more about the information presented.

However, users may need guidance, incentives, and motivation to interact with a horizontal scroller on a website. This requires your web design team to think creatively and discover ways to make users interact with this page navigation method.

Tips for using horizontal scrolling

Before you enable horizontal scrolling on your website, there are a few tips to keep in mind. While horizontal scrolling can be an excellent and valuable mechanism, it's important to know the ins and outs of this approach before creating a slideshow or scroll bar of your own.

Avoid using it on a full web page

Implementing a horizontal scroller shouldn't be done on a full web page. Most users aren't familiar with horizontal scrolling on an entire website. This may trigger confusion or cause visitors to exit immediately, causing your site's bounce rate to skyrocket.

Carefully planning the placement of horizontal scrolling containers is imperative. Ensuring there's adequate white space throughout your website will also help minimize confusion while directing visitors to your site's horizontal scroll bar.

Use visual indicators or alternative browsing solutions

If you want to reduce confusion and improve your website's UX and UI, you can add visual indicators to your scrollable container. Using brightly colored arrows or a separate scroll bar can help direct users, allowing them to comprehend how horizontal scrolling works on your website.

If you have the option to design a horizontal scroll bar for your website, be sure it's aesthetically similar to your site's vertical page navigation. This will help visitors assimilate quickly with the horizontal mechanisms featured on your website, making them less jarring and daunting.

Ensure your horizontal scroll bar is easily accessible

Because horizontal content can be easily missed or overlooked, it's important to make your scroll bars as visible and accessible as possible. This means using custom CSS or styling to allow your horizontal content to stand out and help users learn how to scroll or access information from left to right.

Using larger scroll bars, colored scroll bars, or arrows and other graphics to indicate that horizontal scrolling is available is highly recommended for anyone interested in utilizing this page navigation approach.

Conduct testing

Always conduct testing when implementing a scrollable container, inline-block, or any form of horizontal scrolling feature. Testing your horizontal scroller is possible with a traditional scroll wheel, scroll bars, mouse wheel, or trackpad.

It's also advisable to perform testing with real users. Use A/B testing to launch multiple website landing pages and determine if horizontal scrolling works for your target audience. Include a horizontal scroll bar or container on one of the pages while excluding horizontal scrolling from the other.

Is horizontal scrolling right for you?

When executing the perfect website strategy, it's important to consider whether horizontal scrolling is right for you or if you should stick to vertical navigation. If you want a unique way to incorporate storytelling or have numerous categories and topics to showcase on your website, horizontal scrolling might be just what you need.

Whether you choose horizontal or vertical scrolling, use Mailchimp to design a beautiful and professional website within minutes. Our website builder is intuitive and simple, so creating a one-of-a-kind site for your business is easy.

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