How To Scroll

Mike Bostock:

Scroll-based interaction is incredibly popular for interactive storytelling. There are many compelling reasons for this, yet scrolling is surprisingly nuanced and easy to break. So here are five rules for employing scrolling effectively.

I am personally a bit skeptical about these kinds of features. They generally strike me as more style than substance. These are definitely excellent technical notes on avoiding common pitfalls, with so-called “scroll-jacking,”1 but I haven’t yet seen one of these where I felt like the medium was truly appropriate to the story.

I think back to Allen Tan’s piece last year in Stet, Attention, rhythm & weight:

Yet for all the excitement, I can’t help but wish for more thoughtful discussion, both conceptually and practically. Often, I hear people refer to these designs as “intuitive” and “immersive,” but I find those words maddeningly vague. We — designers, developers, readers, writers, publishers — think we know what they mean in the abstract, but when we stoop down to the details, we end up disagreeing with each other on what the problems are and how they can be solved.

And without a common language for describing what works and what doesn’t, our work isn’t being pushed or explored further. I see example after example appearing online, that people have clearly spent time and thought into making, which cover the same ground and also share the same mistakes.

Experimentation is great if you’re learning. If you’re not, it’s just expensive.

Bostock is extremely well-skilled, and his work is invaluable. I also know that we need the kind of experimentation that is going on at the New York Times.2 It must still be early days; we have much to learn.3

  1. I especially agree with Bostock in his second point, that it is preferable to attach events and animations to the browser’s standard scrolling behavior, rather than hijack it completely, as in the case of Apple’s Mac Pro brochure. Visually quite pleasing, but the interaction feels jarring. 

  2. For what it’s worth, both Mike Bostock and Allen Tan are designers at the Times

  3. All this makes me ponder Roger Ebert’s contention that “Video games can never be art.”