There are many common beliefs about UX design, which are unfortunately based on casual and inaccurate observation. On the other hand, through systematically planned and conducted user research, one can see that these cannot not be further from the truth. I’d like to single out a few such design beliefs. These are ideas that meet two conditions. First, they are believed by many product development professionals, and second, they are backed up by little user data. These ideas, such as long pages are bad for users to discover information, are not completely wrong. They’re just too simplified and, if applied indiscriminately, would undermine engagement and task completion. Whereas experienced designers might already realize the problems of these ideas, still many more do firmly believe them. When I debunk these myths, I will try to show that they’re just half truth and they don’t fully account for the complexity of user experience, and that there are better alternatives of achieving your design objectives.
Part I. Don’t worry about long pages, so long as users know to scroll down
Many designers are too concerned with page length. I heard much too often “the page is too long, users won’t scroll down.” Not necessarily the case. Based on hundreds of user interviews I conducted, user behavior is guided by expectation and contextual cues. Say, if you are on Amazon.com, and you are reading user reviews of the item. That’s a long list of reviews there. But you will keep scrolling down despite the page length. Why? Because you expect to see more when scrolling down, you know for sure that there’s more content down below. On the other hand, if you are on a webpage where there is no indication of what is waiting for you below the fold, you’re less inclined to scroll down. Also, if there is a large block of horizontal content right above the fold, you might think that block of content might be the end of the page and won’t scroll down further. I’ve observed this kind of behavior repeatedly through many eyetracking studies conducted on different types of webpages.
Smart Visual Presentation is Key to Long Page Design Success
So if we set the expectation right so that the user expects to see more below the fold (such as a long list of search results on a search engine page), and manage the visual cues wisely so that it suggests that the content continues rather stops below the fold, then feel free to use long pages and don’t worry about users not scrolling down.
Here are a few visual design and content layout tricks one can employ to encourage users to scroll down:
1. We should avoid employing strong horizontal lines and blocky visual representation, which would tend to stop users at the lines and blocks and discourage them from scrolling down further.
2. The content below the fold should be similar in terms of information and visual representation to the content above the fold – they should form a visual continuum. This way, users will carry on and scroll down the page.
3. To build upon the second point, it will be great if the entire webpage has similar look and feel through out – any interruption or variation, such as a box of content of a different color, could potentially though users off track and stop them from keeping reading down the page.
4. Make sure that important keywords and headers are above the fold. In the Amazon.com’s case, whereas the bulk of user reviews are below the fold, users can already see references and keywords related to user reviews above the fold. This way, they know that there are user reviews somewhere down the road on the page.
Finding Content is Made Easy
A long page is better than multiple short pages when it comes to using the browser’s search function to look for a particular piece of information, because the former has all the information on the same page.For example, if the user hits “Ctrl + F”, he can type a keyword to search for on that page. The longer a page is, the more information is presented there, and therefore the more likely that the user is able to find a hit relative to his keyword search.
Engagement is Enhanced
Applying long pages rather than breaking down a page into multiple short pages would enhance readers’ engagement. The more uninterrupted the reading is, the more engaged the user becomes with the content. User interactions, in this case, clicking a pagination link to go to the next page, disrupts content reading and undermines user interest in the information. Displaying more content on one page gives users an uninterrupted reading experience, and would get them more engaged than asking them to click a “next page” link every once for a while.
When Not to Use Long Pages
As mentioned above, key to long-page design success is to make users believe that there is more below the fold, and have content that is of similar nature when one scrolls down. What if a webpage consists of many blocks of content that is very different from each other? In that case, long pages would not work as users do not expect to discover interesting things below the fold. Here is an example:
On this page, users do not expect to see the content below the fold -it is not a natural extension of the content above the fold. The blocky visual representation – quite a few blocks of content laid one top of one another – also implies to users that there is nothing below the fold. In this case, content below the fold will be ignored. The solution is either to use a short page and place all the must-see content above the fold, or to completely redesign the visual presentation and content placement to encourage users to scroll down.