Let your users scroll

There are certain design choices that are very effective in making me want to leave a website as quickly as possible. One of the best is when the designer has decided that the entire layout should use a fixed width and height. With very few exceptions doing that is a really bad idea.

Fixed size layouts are typically found on Flash sites, and to me confirm the inability of many Flash developers to understand how the Web works. It's a real giveaway that the designer has come straight from a print/TV/multimedia background and has not yet grasped that the Web is different.

In fixed size layouts, content (provided there is any worth mentioning) is normally treated in one of two ways:

  1. Chopped up into tiny fragments that the user has to navigate through by following a long series of links.
  2. Displayed within a (small) scrollable portion of the screen. All too often the user is not allowed to use the normal scrolling mechanism built right into their web browser. Instead the designer feels the need to be "original" and "creative", and come up with an entirely new scrolling interface. No regard is given to usability or accessibility.

Designers that create fixed size layouts seem afraid to let the page scroll. Afraid to let the Web be the Web and behave like the Web.

Ethan Kaplan has more to say on this subject in Why is it so hard to grasp scrolling?, a great article about fixed design and why it hinders usability:

Flash is like retrofitting a perfectly good industrial building. Sure, its not pretty, but with the right tools, the right people and the right knowledge, it can be made into anything you'd like it to be. 100% flash, 4:3 websites, and their ilk are the gaudy exteriors on otherwise serviceable canvases. Not necessary, and terribly tacky.

Spot on.

Posted on September 15, 2006 in Quicklinks, Usability