Will Horizontal Layouts Return?

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By Edison Morais

In the 90s, as the Web was just starting to take off, designers used horizontal layouts — rather in an experimental way, just to give users and designers an idea of what HTML was actually capable of. From the usability perspective it was horrible — sites were hard to scroll and the content was hard to read.

After horizontal approach has lost its novelty, it was quickly discarded and widely rejected. Surprisingly it seems to get back on track. The horizontal scroll is gaining forces and it’s not that horrible this time. Why? Simply because we have a new generation of computer devices, such as mice with a 4-way scrolling wheel1 and widescreen monitors. We have a lot of space area and we have an efficent and user-friendly way to navigate horizontally.

Here are good examples of horizontal layout navigation used in modern web-applications.

Plurk2

A micro blogging platform Plurk3 displays plurks (posts) in a timeline view that makes it easier for users to relate the data to some specific time. Plurks (positioned horizontally) can be easily distinguished from comments (positioned vertically). You can navigate via keyboard arrows or using a usual mouse wheel: when you scroll vertically, the page will be scrolled horizontally.

Piclens4

PicLens5, a popular Firefox plugin that offers a 3D experience for photos and videos, uses horizontal approach for the primary navigation. As the users scroll, images (displayed on a horizontal wall) flow in front of users’ eyes.

Piclens6

It seems that horizontal approach is currently used primarily for visualization purposes, but it can be used for “normal” designs7 too. Will we see this approach more often in the future? Can you imagine further situations in which you would use horizontal layout for your projects? Share your thoughts in the comments!

About the author Link

Edison Morais is an insider Brazilian geek. Former SEO analyst, is researcher of new media, cyber culture and information, specifically how information is created, organized and distributed. He’s also a blogger. You can check more of his work on Conexoes11.

Editor’s note Link

This post is one of the finalists of our guest author contest12. Over three weeks selected top-10-lists and discussion articles will be published. To rate the articles we’ll analyze their popularity, users activity, quality of backlinks, traffic and further data.

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/mouseandkeyboard/features/tiltwheel.mspx
  2. 2 http://www.plurk.com
  3. 3 http://www.plurk.com
  4. 4 http://www.piclens.com/
  5. 5 http://www.piclens.com
  6. 6 http://deanoakley.com/
  7. 7 http://deanoakley.com/
  8. 8 http://stylizedweb.com/2008/07/07/horizontal-layout-trends/
  9. 9 http://www.thehorizontalway.com/
  10. 10 http://css-tricks.com/how-to-create-a-horizontally-scrolling-site/
  11. 11 http://conexoes.edisonmorais.com
  12. 12 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/07/17/write-a-guest-post-and-win-apple-macbook-air/

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  1. 1
  2. 2

    I don’t see any difference for horizontal scrolling to vertical scrolling. However users have a lot more varience in their screen height then their screen width, and therefore it will be a difficult to design successfully for all users.

    Daniel

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  3. 3

    Ahh, memories. I remember configuring a JavaScript that would advance the frame horizontally to the next page when the user clicked the “next” button. I thought it was quite advanced for 1998 and at the time it was. Tables and frames in non-compliant glory…

    I still use the horizontal scrolling method on occasion when a site can benefit from it, but now I use a better method: Coda Slider using JQuery

    Nice sites featured, BTW. I wonder if the world can handle horizontal scrolling now that we’ve gotten them used to vertical. :-)

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  4. 4

    i like this kind of navigation than vertical
    thanks!

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  5. 5

    Interesting!

    I hadn’t even thought of the way PicLens is horizontal- it just feels right the way it is- A sign of truly great design.

    Some further examples and analysis of why designers use horizontal scrolling, and maybe some pros and cons would make this post even better.

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  6. 6

    I tend to think any layout found to be engaging and functional to the user will win in the end. I like these examples. Stretching my thinking on layouts altogether!

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  7. 7

    I think it depends on the overall design idea (as usual). I like horizontal design for pages with a lot of different sections, which can be easily ordered next to one another. Pages with a more linear context should not be ordered horizontally.

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  8. 8

    I must admit I’ve never been a fan of these types of layouts, I’ve only seen one that worked well and it was a full flash site that opened out like you were opening a folded leaflet.

    As you say, maybe with the advent of multi-directional mice we might see more of this but personally I don’t think so.

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  9. 9

    i think that depends on how sou use it
    piclens just works naturally
    but as soon as you get a standard scrollbar at the bottom… aw, that’s no good
    you can’t move it with your mousewheel, like you’re used to with vertical scrolling and that is what makes it user-unfriendly… at least for me

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  10. 10

    Julia Allison’s NonSociety uses the concept as well, while it’s not a master piece design wise I like the concept.

    Plurk is a little weird for me though, if it’s a timeline it should scroll from left to right not the other way around.

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  11. 11

    @9:
    Sure you can, on Firefox for example, I can place my mouse over a horizontal scroll bar and just start scrolling with my mouse button :-)

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  12. 12

    yea.. great ideas.. i only can see the dean oakley website..

    i’m looking for a new idea for my next project.. considering this style too..

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  13. 13

    Horizontal layouts are the new black!

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  14. 14

    As soon as you have to put something in the page, like on the Curiousme site, that instructs the user to “USE BOTTOM SCROLLER TO VIEW WEBSITE,” you’ve potentially lost your user. I find these horizontal scrolling ideas to be pretty unintuitive.

    The problem isn’t so much that it goes against convention. Rather, these horizontal designs display so much information that pulls your eye to the right and left of the screen, even when you’re trying to focus on the central content. That same central content can be easily defined and standardized in a vertical display.

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  15. 15

    I personally think this is a terrible idea on an ordinary website! Surely it is only a gimmick done to try and make a website stand out? Some webapps I can understand using it, but only as a last resort.

    The Dean Oakley site is a prime example of why this is a bad idea. I click on the “My Work” link, and could see the primate picuters hovering just off screen but couldn’t work out how to get to them. Just what you want when people visit your site…having to work out how to navigate!

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  16. 16

    I think horizontal scrolling on a website is bad news. It’s like trying to evole the wheel… bloody pointless. Vertical scrolling has become the standard for users. Horizontal scrolling should only be used on very obscure sites, eg:- flash site promoting a new trainer, or displaying photographs. Somewhere the average user will not find the site difficult to use. Sites aimed at people who are web savy!
    Why confuse the user… !

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  17. 17

    what.. !

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  18. 18

    Will horizontal layouts return? What are they returning from?

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  19. 19

    I agree with Kenneth Woodward. I don’t recall horizontal layouts ever being popular in the first place.

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  20. 20

    As soon as you have to put something in the page, like on the Curiousme site, that instructs the user to “USE BOTTOM SCROLLER TO VIEW WEBSITE,” you’ve potentially lost your user. I find these horizontal scrolling ideas to be pretty unintuitive.

    Yes this intruction have perturbed my mind…
    But it’s also intuitive that a vertical scroll a think but don’t think your visitors are stupid… The scroll is visible horizontally or verticaly.

    Personaly, i like this new vogue of horizontal websites…

    Sorry for my english… Thanks ;)

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  21. 21

    from a user standpoint i can’t ever see horizontal layouts being as popular as vertical. People are used to scrolling down not right to left.

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  22. 22

    Last year I had the great task of updating the Aussie website in a horizontal way, I humbly think it is a great way to differentiate a site from the competition, and great fun to make too!

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  23. 23

    Will they ever return? I guess they never ruled the world ;-) They’re nice if done well, but because of breaking some key usability / accessibility rules, they rather shouldn’t be used more often than they are now (for unusual / concept sites only). Personally, I don’t find horizontal scrolling intuitive. And.. 95% of mouses would have to get additional scroll wheel ;)

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  24. 24

    hmm.. good topic very poorly written. “Surprisingly it seems to have managed to get back on track recently. ” blegh

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  25. 25

    ugh, and there I go submitting a poorly written comment.

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  26. 26

    I think the horizontal scrolling is here to stay. Thanks to iphone/ipod touch’s horizontal scrolling penetration. The Coda Slider is the closest that you can get to that feeling.

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  27. 27

    Any mention of horizontal layouts wouldn’t be complete without mentioning:
    http://www.thehorizontalway.com/

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  28. 28

    After reading this I thought I’d experiment with what it would be like if you could scroll horizontally with the mouse wheel.

    It’s a bit disconcerting!

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  29. 29

    a lot of my feelings of the matter have already been said, but i shall share them any way…

    – if you need to instruct the user how to navigate, the design is fundamentally flawed, in my opinion. that isn’t to say horizontal designs can’t work, but as josh smith said, if you have to say so, you may have already lost a viewer.

    – horizontal formats are unnecessary and counter intuitive to the way one would normally read, say, a news paper, and really, books. the first tendency is to read top to bottom, even before reading left to right (in american/english manners i suppose). it is more comfortable to read (text or visual information) in that way: continuous flow from top down, where lengthwise is only as long as necessary. this may, however, might just be a norm created by conditioning, what with the net primarily being displayed in this format.

    – i can’t say for sure, being that i’ve never designed a horizontal website, but i imagine there being more discrepancies when designing and coding, verses vertical. more chance for something to not look right or display right on various screens and browsers.

    – that being said though, there are a number of artist/portfolio based websites that use this layout. some good, some not, but it bring to light an issue: the size of the content is limited to the height of the area. i suppose this could be good or bad for a graphical website. bad in the obvious limit-of-the-size you can use, and good in that the inevitable size constrictions may result in smaller file sizes/faster load times, instead of what may be a tendency to go larger in a vertical layout.

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  30. 30

    @Steve! Thanks for the tip!
    I didn´t know that!
    I´m playing like a child scolling everythin horizontally with my firefox!

    Long new life for the horizontal layout!

    Valeu Edison pelo artigo! Saudações brasileiras!

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  31. 31

    While an okay feature, it seems like it’s more of a half-assed top ten than a discussion. I think a full ten list of horizontally laid out sites would have been appreciated.

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  32. 32

    I really enjoy this horizontal site…

    http://www.modularpeople.com/03/08.asp

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  33. 33

    In my opinion horizontal works in very few instances. This being that users have tools to navigate through a site vertically more so than horizontally. In addition some implementations require too many mouse clicks.

    But I do think that what’s more important is not whether it’s horizonal or vertical but who is the intended market. That usually will determine what layout works best.

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  34. 34

    We recently launched our new -horizontally oriented- site. It’s in Dutch but without knowing our language you should get the picture:

    Our horizontal layout

    Like to know what you think about it!

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  35. 35

    Sorry, horizontal layouts are generally counter intuitive. The website that was shown as an example, was a pretty bad example of good horizontal scrolling. Besides, I really don’t see how his horizontal solution was any better than doing the same thing with a vertical one.

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  36. 36

    I don’t get it. Why do people keep thinking wide screen monitors are actually wider? They’re just less tall, that’s what. A 17′ widescreen goes 1280×800, while a 17′ normal screen goes full 1280×1024… WAY more space.

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  37. 37

    HP Showroom – a site I built that uses horizontal layout and some fancy JavaScript.

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  38. 38

    I think it would be nice, it would fit betterin widescreen dimensions, 1680x1050px, for example.

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  39. 39

    I remember being in Journalism class, where our teacher, very pumped about an idea he had, pitched it to the editors. He was about thirty seconds into the idea when someone in the class just blurted “who cares?”
    I am reminded of that when I see this article. It seems like someone isn’t trying to engage me as a reader, but just show a series of examples of where this system is being applied. It would have been better if he was giving 10 great horizontal sites or trying to make a case for using a horizontal design.

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  40. 40

    At my previous job I made this horizontal scrolling site:
    http://www.verpakkingstaks.be/index2.html

    It was kinda hard to make the navigation fixed in various browsers.

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  41. 41

    Nice article, made me think of my aging portfolio site. :D

    http://niemi.it/portfolio/

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  42. 42

    I’m just dropping by to mention an effective use of combined navigation. The Twitter/Adobe AIR app: TweetDeck consists of a couple of columns. You have to scroll to see them and you can add more columns should you choose.

    However it’s not all horizontal. The columns themselves are vertically scrolling, making for a sort of “hybrid” design.

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  43. 43

    Horizontal layouts are getting the attention of designers, well, I don’t think it would be usable for everyone who were used to vertical scrolling (If only I can move the mouse wheel in a horizontal layout website). Peace!

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  44. 44

    I personally don’t enjoy using horizontal sites. They aren’t really intuitive. You have to think before taking the next action… which slows you down.

    I think for portfolio sites they have a place though.

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  45. 45

    yes, let´s put it that way…

    WHY SO VERTICAL?

    =)

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  46. 46

    yeah.. horizontal design make a new taste for me.

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  47. 47

    Love the piclens layout

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  48. 48

    I have always liked Red Interactives website. Horizontal and vertical layout (although content is really just grouped at 1 location)

    http://ff0000.com/

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  49. 49

    Ahh it’s nightmare of usebility!

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  50. 50

    The timeline a dreadfully underutilized visual aid. Perhaps because it hasn’t fit web pages (or printer pages) well (historically)? I wish there were better resources available for adding flash timeline widgets to webpages (without having to build one from scratch).

    Horizontal, in the right hands, offers awesome potential.

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