Are Skinny Scroll Bars Worth the Hit to Website Usability?

When it comes to interface design, what's with websites (and applications) switching to the skinny scroll bar. Okay, it saves space. But are the usability drawbacks worth the few extra pixels? Since downloading and trying out Rockmelt a few weeks back, I've been asking myself this question.

Rockmelt's App Edge

For those unfamiliar, Rockmelt is a social media web browser similar to Flock. Social media feeds (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) can be added into a side bar called the App Edge. Then as we're browsing the Web, Rockmelt lets us know about new items in our feed(s).

Well, the window for viewing those feeds uses a scroll bar that's difficult to grab. This may not be an issue for those with a scroll wheel mouse or are familiar with navigating pages with a keyboard. However, when the feed window loads, focus isn't always placed on the window. We may need to click the window before the scroll wheel and keyboard work as expected.

If we're looking to drag the scroll bar, the little bugger can be difficult to get a hold of. After all, it's only 6 pixels wide. Are they really saving that much room? When Rockmelt first loads the social media windows have a more standardized scroll bar that's 15 pixels wide. The difference can be seen in Figure 1.

Rockmelt screenshot showing the difference between the scroll bar before and after the styles load
Figure 1. Rockmelt's Feed Window Scroll Bar

Other Services with Tiny Scroll Bars

HootSuite, the tool for managing a social media presence online, also has fairly skinny scroll bars for each feed (see Figure 2). To be honest, I don't really use this service for viewing feeds. So I didn't notice until now.

Screenshot showing HootSuite's scroll bars
Figure 2. Scroll Bars for HootSuite

Google Docs seems to have recently jumped on the bandwagon. The scroll bars aren't as tiny as Rockmelt's though (see Figure 3). However, they seem to have similar issue with the scroll wheel mouse. The page only seems to move a little before stopping. Eventually, I'm forced to grab the scroll bar.

Screenshot showing the scroll bars for Google Docs
Figure 3. Scroll Bars for Google Docs


It's not clear to me why services are moving toward the skinny scroll bar. Maybe they're just trying to replicate the bar used in the Safari app on the iPhone. If that's the case, the Safari app isn't used like a desktop application. Whatever the reason, developers and designers should be asking themselves why they want skinny scroll bars and is it worth the likely frustration when it comes to using them. Not everyone has a scroll wheel or they may not be familiar with it. And I would imagine that the average user doesn't navigate with the keyboard.


There are currently no comments.

Leave a Comment