Fight the Horizontal Fight

I recently read an article on Medium about the faults of designing a horizontal web 'We need to go back to a strictly vertical web' by Nils Sköld. It's an interesting article and I hear the arguments loud and clear. Nevertheless, just can't help but think that avoiding a problem never solves it. While reading the post, I kept recalling Thinking For a Living's breakdown of their new site functionality to horizontal scrolling 'Horizontalism and Readability' by Frank Chimero. It's a very pragmatic view of why horizontal scrolling makes a lot of sense for reading on the web. I revisited the article 3 years later, and it still holds up for me.

And, that was 2010, before I had lived with and used an iPad, but now that argument is even stronger with the advent of tablet and smartphone usage. Our 'browser web' does not just live on desktops.

I realize there are a ton of problems with scrolling horizontally on a desktop or laptop computer. Most browsers don't respond to a horizontal mouse scroll to easily move the page over. Clicking an dragging is a pain, especially if a user is reading and has to move their eyes away from the paragraph to the scrollbar. Also a ton of mouses only scroll vertically in the first place.

Thinking for a Living solved some of this with usage of arrow keys and keyboard shortcuts for navigation. This really suits it's designer audience who are very accustomed to keeping fingers on keys and trying to move the mouse only when necessary. I ♥ hotkeys. It works on tablet/smartphone swipe as well.

There is a long way to go with horizontal scrolling, I know. It's sort of a feature that isn't used enough to get browser support, and when used, it's not hacked well enough to create the right user experience and often not optimized for tablet/smarphone swipe. I just don't think designers should give up yet. We have to create the demand before we get supply, and so the web goes.

Purposely living with wonkiness is tough to do. I suspect that it weighs on most designers and builders who innovate the web pretty persistently. I suspect that was more of the motivation behind Sköld's article, and maybe he was sick of using a click to mitigate the lack of horizontal scrolling support. I just think we need to demand a better horizontal web and implement hacks that do it the right way, sans click.

I confront living with a healthy amount of wonkiness in some ways when designing MVPs for startups at Thinkiv, and I know it's frustrating at times. I struggle with it in my own knowledge and learning of things. But, if rowing boats on a crew has taught me anything about tackling a new technique it's that it usually gets worse before it gets better. But when the technique gets better, you get better and stronger. Plus you have some calluses, so next time it's less painful.