UX Un-Trends: The Fundamental Flaw with Infinite Scrolling

With the convergence of mobile and desktop applications — they (which had traditionally been designed very differently) are becoming more alike in more ways. There is one feature that carried over from the mobile app, made its way into the “dedicated mobile site” (remember when we had those?), and now that everything is the same site/app just responsive, it is now strongly rooted in desktop sites/apps too.

Spoiler alert in the title. I’m talking about infinite scrolling. We got into this habit of scrolling with our mobile devices (which is another post entirely, so I’m going to focus on the trend itself at the moment) and now in any kind of site that features a newsfeed [pick your favorite social media site for example], you never hit the bottom of the page.

The problem is, there is a traditional site element down there that now you never see. And if you do happen to see it, before you can read it more content loads and pushes it down again. You’re constantly chasing this component, which because of infinite scrolling, you’re never going to see no matter how hard you try — even if it does indeed exist.

Yes, the footer. The miniature sitemap where we used to go for the more detailed navigation that wasn’t put in the high-level header menu. Most of the time it is still there, just completely unusable because infinite scrolling demands to show you more content before you can even read two words of it, let alone click or tap on any links. And I’m honestly surprised how widely this combination of “Footers & Infinite scroll” is implemented. Not going to name any names, but keep an eye out for it and you will see it all over the place (except Twitter — well done, Twitter).

Infinite scrolling absolutely makes sense for some sites. In mobile app news feeds, it is essential. But when you make the decision to implement infinite scrolling, you should take one of two actions

  • Completely remove the footer — If you legitimately think your users are never going to use your footer, or you have analytics to back up that it really is insignificant, just take it out. When a user scrolls to the bottom and they see all of these links they’ve never seen before, they are going to get curious. And if you keep injecting more content before they can actually see what is there, you’re just going to frustrate them.
  • Add a “Load More Content” button — Yes I know. As UX designers we’re all about minimizing clicks and minimizing the number of actions the user has to take to accomplish a given task. But if you decide to keep your footer, you will from time-to-time have a user that wants to utilize it. You wouldn’t have kept it if it wasn’t significant so now you have a responsibility to make it accessible.

In my opinion, it is okay to allow one, maybe two (max) infinite scroll iterations depending on how much content you are loading each time. The reality is the majority of your users are still going to be wanting the new content, but there should be a limit to this. After that limit, make the user triggers the next load. If they’re still using your site after two iterations anyway, chances are they’ve interacted with some content they’ve already scrolled past. Adding one more interaction for them to show intent that they are looking for more content won’t hurt them. Similar to how Netflix asks “Hey, are you still watching?” You give the user opportunity to show intent and you can have your site act accordingly. If they are looking for the footer, your users will thank you (and so will I) for not making them scroll to the end of the internet just to look at the footer.