The Infinite Scroll Debate

infinity

Of course, infinite scroll isn’t really infinite.

Infinite scroll became a design practice about a decade ago. It is a web design technique where, as the user scrolls down a page, more content automatically and continuously loads at the bottom, eliminating the user’s need to click to the next page.

In earlier decades, the idea of having a long web page (nowhere near infinite!) was considered poor design. In fact, early web design was based on the design of print, especially, newspapers, which thought of the initial desktop screen view without scrolling as the same as the “above the fold” for a newspaper.

A 2006 study by Jakob Nielsen found that 77% of visitors to a website do not scroll, and therefore only see the portion of the website that is above the fold. Some designers still believe the “fold” is worth considering today, but the move to small screens and mobile design has changed how we define that “fold.”

What are the advantages of the infinite scroll? It allows people a frictionless browsing experience without having to go to a “next page” link, arrow or button. Without a end point or bottom , people tend to keep scrolling. Therefore, this scroll is designed to pull you in.

It is a bit addictive – a rabbit hole and some people warn that it has psychological and even societal effects. The term “addictive technology” is sometimes considered antithetical to “ethical design.”

In 2019, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley introduced the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act which would outlaw social media platforms from using certain practices, including infinite scroll.

Infinite scroll can also make navigation especially difficult for users with disabilities.

One typical design feature – the footer – is diminished, if not eliminated in the infinite scroll design. This area typically contained “About” and “Contact” links and perhaps an entire menu and information that was carried over to the rest of the site. It is a long scroll back up to the top of an infinite page to get to the main menu.

Many users know how to jump back to the top of a long page, but not everyone, and it can be frustrating to a new viewer.

It’s easier to “get lost” on a long page. Long pages also load slower, which is an issue for anyone on a slower connection.

So, should you use infinite scroll? It is a consideration. And a compromise is longer but not infinite pages. I find most designers are not recommending it to clients, but be informed.

More at builtin.com/ux-design/infinite-scroll

Artificial Intelligence and Web Design

ai

Hello, World. I am your web designer…

Recently, I read an article about using artificial intelligence (AI) for the instructional design of courses. Initially, that frightened me. First of all, it might mean less work for instructional designers – which I have both been and run a department working with them. Second, it’s hard for me to imagine AI making decisions on pedagogy better than a designer and faculty member.

Of course, using AI for that kind of design is probably limited (at least at first) to automating some tasks like uploading documents and updating calendars rather than creating lessons. Then again, I know that AI is being used to write articles for online and print publications, so who knows where this might go in the future.

I just read another piece asking “Is Artificial Intelligence the Next Stepping Stone for Web Designers?” and, of course, my concerns are the same – lost jobs and bad design.

Certainly, we are already using AI in websites, particularly in e-commerce applications. But using AI to actually design a website is very different.

Some companies have started to use AI for web design. A user answers some questions to start a design: pick an industry or category (portfolio, restaurant, etc.), enter a business name, add a subtitle/slogan/brand, upload a logo, enter an address, hours of operation, and so on. The AI may offer you a choice of templates and then in a few clicks, the basics of the site are created.

This is an extension of the shift 20 years to template-driven web design. Now, it is based on machine learning techniques with human intervention at the initial stage by providing their desired information and probably again after the site is created to fine-tune.

I do a lot of designs in Squarespace and they are clearly using AI and machine learning to get you started. Do you still need human intervention? Absolutely. Does the human need to be a “designer”?  Clearly, the goal is to allow anyone to do a good job of creating a website without a designer.

In my own work, I still find many people need someone with experience and training to create the site, but they can oftentimes maintain it on their own if the updates are simple. I have also had clients who with just a few clicks have completely wrecked their websites. And there is no Cntrl-Z or Undo button to put it back together again.

AI will change – dare I say revolutionize – many industries and design is certainly on the list. When AI can make the process more efficient, I am all for it, but I stu=ill like the human factor in any design project.