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Let’s Get Horizontal, Baby!

Everything going sideways can be a good thing when it comes to web design.

A horizontal scroll – page navigation that scrolls left and right to reveal content rather than the traditional up and down – has until recently been considered a no go. Thought to be gimmicky and attention-seeking (what’s wrong with that?), web design do and don’t-lists from even just a few years ago will tell you users are used to scrolling down. So please don’t confuse them, or risk them clicking away – fast.

But Instagram, and a certain dating app (or so we’ve been told) have had us swiping left and right for a while now. And ever since Netflix became a household name we’ve learned to look right for more juicy stuff. It’s actually kind of kicking it old school in that it’s how we all read magazines and books.  

While going sideways can get a bad rap, it’s a great way to shake up the status quo. But done properly with simple arrow icons, dots or informational text to point users in the right direction. Another visual hint that works really well is to let a part of the scrollable content peek out letting consumers know there’s more to be had if they want it.

Though there is something to be said for the element of surprise – when a spin of the mouse wheel unexpectedly takes users sideways instead of down. This works well for one-pagers like this one on the history of Amsterdam’s canals – which feels like flipping through a gorgeous coffee table book.

A horizontal scroll is perfect for businesses who want to show off image-heavy content in a gallery or catalogue, or to group items in categories (again, think Netflix). Taking a ton of content to the side somehow feels less laborious than asking consumers to go on a never-ending downward spiral. 

We love it for: Realtors to showcase property listings. Restaurants to feature menu items (with mouth-watering images). Hotels and resorts to create beautiful editorial-style ‘wish-you-were-here’ image galleries. And any company who wants to display a large categorized portfolio of products or work.

Taking a sideways scroll can be fresh, exciting – and just plain fun – as seen in this playful page from the UK’s AO that’s educating it’s customers on how to waste less food.Some designers (not us) will still insist that what goes up must come down. And they might even suggest clients will give you the side-eye should you take things horizontal. But sometimes it pays to break away from the pack. Just ask Harry Styles. He could have gone in ‘one direction’ forever but he went his own way – and has been riding a watermelon sugar high ever since.

Some designers (not us) will still insist that what goes up must come down. And they might even suggest clients will give you the side-eye should you take things horizontal. But sometimes it pays to break away from the pack. Just ask Harry Styles. He could have gone in ‘one direction’ forever but he went his own way – and has been riding a watermelon sugar high ever since.

Carly Krug is a freelance writer, and former lifestyle reporter for 24 Hours newspaper, whose work has appeared in Flare, Elle, House & Home and TV Guide.
CARLY KRUG
Freelance Writer