Scrolling is easier than clicking

A small observation with huge implications: scrolling is easier than clicking.

This affects a lot of things, like whether to place information further down a page or whether to place it behind a drop-down, button, or link. Should we break up our articles like news sites onto 7 different pages? Are people happy clicking through each of the pages to get to another page overloaded with stuff other than what they want to read? How many people now search for the “One Page” option when reading an article on the New Yorker or similar sites?

The evidence is all in favor of scrolling. Not only do analytics support it, usability testing demonstrates it, but every new device is a scrolling machine. iPhones, iPads, and anything with a piece of glass as an interface are made to scroll, and the scrolling gesture is probably the easiest gesture of all. Just slide your finger.

So here is the real difference: scrolling is a continuation; clicking is a decision. Scrolling is simply continuing to do what you’re currently doing, which is typically reading. Clicking, however, is asking the user to consider something new…is this new thing the same as what I’m already doing, or something new? Obviously this is a small interaction…but think about it in scale. Hundreds or thousands of decisions taken together add up to real friction.

And for some reason there is a myth about users not scrolling. It’s a very old myth…and it must have come about around the same time as the “above the fold” myth. This is bunk. If you need evidence just look around. The evidence is everywhere. Simply watch any human being using a mobile or tablet device. People scroll so much you could almost say that they scroll more than they don’t.

So when you’re designing your next article or product page, consider what you’re asking your users to do. Are you asking them to make a real decision and go someplace else? Or are you asking them to just scroll a little further to see what’s next? Cognitively, it’s easier to move a little where you are than to go somewhere else.

Bonus reading: (thanks readers!)

Published: January 22nd, 2014