Understanding The Basics Of Scrolling Fatigue

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Scrolling fatigue

Understanding The Basics Of Scrolling Fatigue

Scrolling is a fundamental part of navigating the digital world. Especially suited to touch screen devices, scrolling allows one "page" to contain an almost infinite amount of information. When it works, scrolling works really well. But when it's implemented badly, it can cause a wide array of experience problems for the user. Scrolling fatigue is one such problem.

What Is Scrolling Fatigue?

Scrolling fatigue sets in when a user becomes frustrated while scrolling through a website or app and either stops paying attention or quits entirely. There are many ideas about what causes scrolling fatigue and how developers and designers can avoid inducing it in users. It can strike suddenly or creep up gradually. We've all experienced it, and it's the last thing you want to inflict on your users.

There are two types of scrolling fatigue – zombie scrolling and rage quitting. With zombie scrolling, the user stops engaging with the content but carries on scrolling through it. Rage quitting is just as the name suggests – when the user gets so frustrated with the experience that they quit in anger.

The Way We Read Affects User Experience

Humans have been reading for thousands of years, and the way we do it and how it feels varies depending on the technology we're using. Scanning text is hard work, and our brains do whatever they can to make it easier for us – searching out focus points and potential breaks.

  • Online, we scan: It seems we tend to scan text when reading online rather than carefully reading each word. Make this easy for users with descriptive headings and highlighted sections.
  • Negative space is good: Don't crowd the page! Negative space allows users to focus on one element at a time.
  • We need breaks: Well-placed breaks in text make reading and scanning much easier. Don't tire users out with walls of text.

How This Generation Has Adapted To Technology

Back when publishing required expensive materials and specialized equipment, publishers crammed as much information as possible on one page to reduce costs. Gradually, norms developed around layout and formatting, which were further codified throughout the following years. Pages of books, newspapers, and magazines were generally crowded, with unused space reserved for fancy art books.

Today, we have digital space and can spread out. Standards and norms have developed around digital space and continue to evolve – as we spend more time online, the focus has shifted from the crowded, chaotic designs of the early Internet to interfaces designed with the user in mind. Upcoming generations are more aware of the physical toll constant connection can take and are making efforts to reduce them.

Causes Of Scrolling Fatigue

Scrolling fatigue isn't caused by the user having to scroll. Users have no problem with scrolling when it's implemented well – the problem stems from poor design choices and reluctance to hire an editor. We understand a lot about how humans consume text and can use this knowledge to our advantage.

Although the technology we read with has changed, many of the factors involved in scrolling fatigue would be familiar to a medieval monk or 1950s newspaper devotee. Bad formatting, long-winded writers, and terrible design have plagued readers throughout the millennia.

The major factors involved in scrolling fatigue are:

  • Too few focus points: The human brain is constantly trying to make sense of what the eyes see. Large blocks of uniform text are hard to parse, and users will likely skip them or become frustrated reading them. Text needs enough focus points such as headings or bold text throughout to draw the user from one section to the next. Beware, though. Too many focus points can be distracting!
  • Rambling information: When communicating online, get to the point quickly and stick to it. Users don't want to read whimsical musings as they navigate a product, even if the author thinks they're funny. Equally, text that bounces erratically from one subject to another is off-putting. Keep text concise, relevant, and well-organized to hold users' attention.
  • Badly written text: We're not all wordsmiths, and there's no shame in admitting it. But that's no excuse for inflicting badly written content on your users. Mistakes and badly worded text not only make it more difficult for users to understand but also project a less-than-professional aura. Employ a professional writer to craft any text for your product and have an editor check longer texts.
  • Off-putting design: Lime green writing in a crazy font on a yellow background with flashing images on either side is not going to make you any friends. Text needs to be readable and accessible to as many people as possible, with a design that enhances the information. Surrounding elements should be relevant and not distracting.  

Effects Of Scrolling Fatigue

Most of us have felt the effects of scrolling fatigue at one time or another. We can put the effects on users into two categories – zombie scrolling and rage quitting. Neither is good for your business!

  • Zombie-scrolling: You know when you check the clock, and it's 3.30 pm, quickly glance at your Twitter or Instagram feed, then suddenly realize it's 5 pm? You've been zombie-scrolling. This is where we scroll with no purpose in mind, without taking in much, if any, of what we're seeing.

Sometimes we start out zombie scrolling, like when we check our phone without thinking. Other times attentive reading slips into zombie scrolling – like when we zone out attempting to read an app's extensive T&Cs.

  • Rage-quitting: Rage-quitting is when the user gets so frustrated with the experience of interacting with the product that they can't bear to continue. It's the last thing you want to induce in users. Lots of factors can cause rage-quitting – load times, labyrinthine navigation, and badly placed buttons, to name a few.

Interminable scrolling through huge blocks of text is another factor. Users hate walls of text without cues and break − they need to be able to quickly find what they are looking for without scrolling through ten feet of text.

Why Scrolling Isn't Going Away Anytime Soon

Scrolling is a great way to present lots of information on a small screen. It's not loved by everyone – some designers think it should be avoided and prefer to spread information across several pages. On the whole, though, users are happy to scroll to find information (as long as they can find what they need quickly).

Some reasons why scrolling isn't going anywhere include:

  • Helpful for smaller devices: Clicking "next" through too many pages of information gets tedious - scrolling is much easier.
  • Great for long-form content: Having to advance pages is disruptive and incredibly off-putting for users.
  • Accepted by users: Users have taken to scrolling and expect to see it implemented. It's also much easier than clicking or tapping!
  • Increases memorability: Research suggests that we remember information better when we scroll rather than page through it, with a lower cognitive load.

What Scrolling Fatigue Means For Your Users' Experience

Scrolling is an integral part of the user interface (UI) and heavily influences the user experience (UX). Because the UX can make or break a product, you'll want to reduce scrolling fatigue as much as you possibly can across the content, design, and navigation.

Think about it from the user's point of view. They want to achieve something, and they want to do it quickly with minimal fuss. Scrolling to reach useful, well-presented information is no problem! But when there's too much scrolling or a generally bad design, it is very off-putting.

General Tips To Lower Scrolling Fatigue

A few of our top tips for reducing scrolling fatigue among your users:

  • Use unexpected focus points: Strategically placed focus points that draw user attention in a pleasing and surprising way keep the user engaged while scrolling.
  • Use cues to trigger reward responses: Consider how you can reward users for scrolling with visuals, sounds, and other types of feedback – but make sure it's not distracting.
  • Minimize distractions: Keep layouts simple and make it obvious what users need to do. Spread information out and keep font styles, colors, and backgrounds unobtrusive.

Content Strategies For Preventing Fatigue

There's plenty you can do with your content to reduce scrolling fatigue for your users. A few things to think about when producing content:

  • Start strong: Grab users right from the start.
  • Keep it relevant: Stay on-topic and don't ramble.
  • Emphasize readability: Keep language concise and simple.
  • Use images intelligently: Break up content with well-placed images.

Design Strategies For Preventing Fatigue

Designers have a lot of influence here. Develop designs with preventing scrolling fatigue in mind from the beginning, using elements intelligently to hold the users' interest.

  • Use unexpected visual changes: Pleasant surprises keep users engaged.
  • Avoid the false bottom: When the bottom of the screen is not the bottom of the page, make sure users know to keep scrolling.
  • Give plenty of cues: Let the user know where they are and where they're going.
  • Incorporate negative space: Highlight information and give eyes a chance to relax with negative space.

Navigation Strategies For Scrolling

Bad design ruins good ideas, and navigation is a big part of that. There are several ways to make scrolling easier on users:

  • Use sticky navigation: Allow users to access all areas easily and minimize scrolling.
  • Let users jump around: Use jump-to sections to orient users when using infinite or very long scrolling.
  • Check the back button: Keep users in the same place on the page when they go back.

How To Test For An Engaging Experience While Scrolling

Robust, consistent testing is an essential part of producing a successful product. Incorporate testing for scrolling fatigue from the beginning of the process, and continue testing throughout.

Some types of testing where you could measure scrolling fatigue include:

  • Usability testing
  • User acceptance testing
  • Five-second testing

Designing A Fatigue-Free Scrolling Experience

So, we've explored how to create products that are comfortable and engaging for users without inducing scrolling fatigue. By understanding how users perceive and process information presented on a screen and drawing on the wealth of research that exists around this topic, we can spare users from scrolling fatigue, improving their experience of our product. Read more about scrolling as part of UX design.

With the right UX tools, you can prevent scrolling fatigue. Consult with us today!

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Abdul Suleiman
Abdul SuleimanChief Experience Officer
Abdul Suleiman

Abdul has helped over 40 Fortune 500 companies make informed user-centered design decisions through evidence-based user research and UX best practices. As an Adjunct Professor, Abdul has taught in DePaul University’s graduate UX programs and for nine other universities.

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