It’s easy to say we haven’t reached full potential in all areas of the User Experience. It’s even easier to say that in regards to sprawling content (i.e. content that has to be scrolled—scroll bars…). Who knows what’s next…But, here are some models that are currently in use:
1) Simple scroll-bar for horizontal and vertical content
2) Automatic scrolling once mouse hovers over arrow to go down or up
3) Pagination (i.e. you have to click next to see more)
It’s quite possible there isn’t a silver bullet. Maybe, scrolling will be handled on a control level with custom implementations. It’s hard to say this early—but, definitely a consistent model will be easier for the user.
Microsoft recently added a reading view to Word that uses the pagination model. When it was released, they made it sound like they had done some research, and this was the best way to go. Maybe from an affordance standpoint, but I can hardly believe this is the best. The pagination model throws the dynamic aspect of computers away. Instead, it reverts back to the way hard-copy books work, which doesn’t help if you forgot the last words from the previous page. At least a scroll has the ability to keep content in the middle, so you have a good scope of past and future content in the continuum.
Or, could it be that scrollable content is wrong? Could it be that content should fit in a navigable view linking to other single-page views only? Could it be that if the content is larger than a single page view, there is too much information for the user to process? Hiding details until needed would probably help. We could apply current research from the web that says navigation doesn’t help—people should click back to the home page and start over if they need to do another task—orienting the site so everything is task (goal) driven. On a side note, the research could be flat wrong. People might think of the pages hierarchically, yet the web doesn’t offer a good solution to navigate that hierarchy.
I may have not been clear in the last paragraph, so let me rephrase. It may be the case that content that must be scrolled is poorly designed. So, the next question would be whether we should thrive on scrolling paradigms, instead, just redesign the content correctly. Don’t mistake my semantics. I use the word content, but in the end, content should probably be User Interface independent—in this case, content refers the page of information being displayed.
As a quick exercise, I have pshopped an image of a scroll paradigm for content that cannot be redesigned. I notice that many people find automatic scrollers easier for a number of reasons.
1) They usually have trouble steadying the scroll thumb to a desired destination and end up at the wrong location. This just has to do with the eye-hand coordination that avid users have, but novices do not.
2) They use the small arrows above and below the thumb, but inevitably scroll using too little increments, and are hampered by scrolling instead of reading or finding.
Also, mouse’s (mice?) with scroll wheels are ubiquitous, yet they aren’t integrated into the experience as nice as I would like. Most novices do not use them. So, obviously they haven’t delivered on their potential. I think they are great. So, scrolling with the mouse wheel should be automatic if the cursor is over the scroll-designated region.
Besides this, another big problem is navigating to content—granted that you must scale the entire document as quick as possible. For this, I think scaled views of the content should be presented to the user. Then, they can click on an area and automatically have it show up on the main view—similar to a map key.