What do MySpace, Netflix, and iTunes all have in common?

The annoying difference between mobile and desktop.


I hate their desktop user interface design, and love their mobile UI. Why? Horizontal Scrolling.

Yeah I know, the horizontal scrolling argument is old news, so why are some of the most popular websites still using it?

Desktop interfaces that display a large amount of content have yet to make horizontal scrolling user-friendly. Laptops with trackpads are making the experience more like mobile, but it’s still not the same. It is very difficult to consume content while horizontally scrolling, and it is typically hard to control.

On mobile, horizontal scrolling is much easier to control. A simple thumb gesture shows new content without scrolling too far, and mobile devices have made accelerometer-based gesture recognition a breeze.

Netflix

In my opinion, Netflix is the worst of the bunch. The desktop UI doesn’t even have a scroll bar. Users have to wait for the slider to scroll their content while continuously hovering over the navigation arrow.

iTunes

By the time I get to the end of the New Music list, I can’t read because my eyes have been destroyed from trying to read two different rows of text that are moving. Good luck trying to read the band names as they move below. Yes, the user could make the section stop scrolling in order to read them, but that means the user has to inch their way through the list.

MySpace

Never would I have thought the MySpace UI would be better than Apple’s or Netflix’s. MySpace makes their images and text large so they are easier to consume while scrolling horizontally. Still, it’s difficult to control and remember certain places while scrolling side to side.

What’s the real problem?

Horizontal scrolling doesn’t allow for breaks or changes in content, which doesn’t let the user consume content like they would vertically. Imagine reading Tweets horizontally, or if Apple.com made their product pages (like this one) scroll horizontally instead of vertically. It would make things very difficult. So why does iTunes, Netflix, and Myspace have such poor horizontal scrolling?

From my perspective iTunes, Netflix, and Myspace have too much content to show at one time. The iPhone 5c page has very little to portray; iTunes has billions of images to display. Horizontal scrolling has been one of the only answers to displaying tons of content on one page without taking up too much screen real-estate. Beyond that, horizontal scrolling sites can sometimes appear to be new, and cool. In rare cases it can be done well, like these: Whitest Boy Alive, Make Your Money Matter. But, even on YouTube and Hulu, carousel scrolling is still done poorly.

From my perspective of the perspective the designers had while creating these interfaces, horizontal scrolling can be much simpler than using a typical slider when considering users who may be unfamiliar with the UI. If a novice user doesn’t understand where the images went after they slide to a new set of images, they will become upset and cancel their service then the economy will crash and the world will blow up.

Axe It, or Upgrade

Remove the typical horizontal sliders, and build usability focused media carousels — like many smaller sites have already done. Use everything a desktop device offers: a mouse click, trackpad gestures, mouse-wheel, arrow keys, leap motion, etc. Using these actions to the right while hovered over the carousel should quickly show new content without scrolling too far. Using the actions to the left should show the content the user previously viewed, then in reverse. I think this would make advanced users happier, and would not be too complicated for novice users.

The other option is to make media-driven sites vertical, like Google Play.

It’s time to either remove horizontal scrolling on a desktop, or find ways to make it as easy as it is on mobile.