Forcing your webpage content to scroll is generally a bad idea

February 11, 2010

Every so often, website designers do things that make me clutch my head like a stunned monkey, so today I have an open letter for them.

Dear website designers: please understand that stuffing your page contents into a restricted space and forcing it to scroll when it doesn't fit is not a good idea, at least not if you want people to actually read it. No one likes reading content through a little viewport when they have their full browser window available, and reading content that requires horizontal scrolling is generally catastrophically bad (try it someday and see how long you're willing to pan the scrollbars back and forth for every line).

If you're using the CSS overflow property to force scrolling and it is triggering more than once in a blue moon, you are doing horrible things to the readability of the result. As in, it isn't. This goes double if you artificially restrict the size of your viewport space with things like max-width and max-height, despite the size of the user's browser.

(I have seen article and site layouts where the code snippets embedded in text always had horizontal scrollbars, even with my browser window maximized and huge amounts of space remaining on the left and right of their 3-column layout. Apparently these people didn't actually want me to read those code snippets, which makes me wonder why they put them in the article in the first place.)

This very issue, combined with CSS limitations that prevent you from doing better, is why I use a table-based layout here.

Written on 11 February 2010.
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Last modified: Thu Feb 11 01:10:22 2010
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