“You’re holding it wrong” Vertical video is not a passing fad

It doesn’t matter that I hate when I see people watching video while holding their phone vertically. To me, it’s worse than finding the toilet paper roll facing the wrong way. But people vote with their behavior, and I’m losing that one.

Cinemas, TVs. The orientation matches our field of vision because human eyes are side by side, not stacked vertically. (Image: Davide Cantelli, Unsplash.)

Recently, while trying to evaluate our social media marketing channels, our team (thanks Sean Johnson) pulled together some research. We wanted to know whether our videos would perform better in vertical (portrait), square, or horizontal (landscape). What we found confirmed our fear. The industry has data that videos in social media get higher engagement rates with square and vertical video on mobile where mobile comprises the majority of the audience.

What’s the data say?

AdWeek: “Cropped clips increase completion rates by 67%”

Source: AdWeek: Instagram’s Box-shaped Videos Are Influencing Facebook Marketers

Adweek: “3X better CPMs”

Source: AdWeek, “Facebook Vertical Video Ads Just Went Live and Are Producing Great Results

Besides that, with Snapchat and Instagram stories, vertical video is simply required … there’s no other option. And though you can now post “traditional” aspect ratio videos on Instagram, square is still the coin of the realm.

Even old school platforms like Facebook are jumping on the vertical video bandwagon, introducing formal support just weeks ago.

But why does it work? Two reasons.

When a person holds their phone upright, the horizon stays in the same orientation (duh), but now the restricted field of view pulls the subject closer, and creates a more intimate viewing experience. (Image: Annie Spratt, Unsplash)

First, when a person holds their phone upright, the horizon stays in the same orientation (duh), but now the restricted field of view pulls the subject closer, and creates a more intimate viewing experience. The social networks have embraced this sense of intimacy. Whether intentionally or not, SnapChat, Periscope, Meerkat, Instagram Stories, Twitter Events, Facebook Live’s vertical orientation have embraced this more intimate view.

Second, when people use technology we, as designers, or creators, should know better than to prescribe how to use or consume our stuff. If most people engage your interface a certain way, you can try to teach them, or you can embrace their behavior, and optimize your experience to match.


I don’t expect to ever enter a movie theater with a vertical screen, or to pivot my television vertically on my wall, but in social media, the format works.