Scrolling vs. Pagination

Dmitri Fadeyev on scrolling vs. pagination in ebooks:

The scroll interface suits the variable nature of the digital content that it holds, but more so, it gives the user more fine-grained control over the reading experience.

While that's technically true, the kind of control scrolling gives to users seems completely meaningless in the context of the task the user is engaged in. She's reading a book. It's a mostly linear affair. Her main goal is to go through the text from beginning to end. The additional control isn't helping with that goal, it's just creating more work.

This is not like the kind of control afforded by, say, manual transmission in a car.1 There, the user is doing more, but she also genuinely has more control over how the car drives.

Scrolling affords a completely empty kind control. The user is doing more, she's controlling more, but she's not actually achieving more.

But maybe it's really only about experience, and not about the actual task. And maybe the additional control afforded by scrolling somehow creates a more satisfying experience than mere paging would. But when the user is reading a book, shouldn't the experience be about the actual book, not the app she's using to read the book? For a book reading app, shouldn't the UI itself be as invisible and non-intrusive as possible?

If I'm reading a novel, the experience I'm having should be the book's story unfolding in my head, not my fingers scrolling the page every few seconds. In this case, good UX design means not interfering with the actual experience the user is having: the book's story.

Pagination gets out of the way. Read a page. Push a button. Read the next page. Repeat. No needless2 interference with the actual text being read, no unnecessary interactions that could pull the reader out of the book's world.

Michael Tsai:

With scrolling, I feel like I have too much control. I constantly have to “measure” how far to scroll and make the proper precise movement. My eyes have to track the content as it moves. It’s exhausting because of the concentration it requires compared with just pressing a button and having the right thing happen.


Simurai proposes a system that combines scrolling and pagination. It's an interesting idea, though overloading "flicking" in this way might be confusing to users who don't realize how or why the behavior was triggered. Simurai offers some possible solutions for this. A simple solution would be to trigger the behavior with a gesture that doesn't trigger anything else in a vertical scroll pane; maybe a horizontal swipe.

And a follow-up from Dmitri Fadeyev, pointing out some situations where scrolling actually affords useful control.

  1. Yep, a car example. So sue me :-) ↩︎

  2. Of course, switching pages still interrupts the reading experience, but to a lesser degree than constant scrolling does. ↩︎

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