Is It Time To Lay Scrolljacking To Rest?

Scrolljacking Over the last couple of years, web design has homogenized around a small set of tropes — one-page sites, full-bleed images, parallax scrolling, and what’s come to be known as scrolljacking. I’ve loved many of the sites that adopted this set of design trends, but scrolljacking has never been on my list of things to admire about a site’s design.

I’m not going to single out any particular site, but I’m sure you’ve all experienced a site with scrolljacking. You click on a link and are taken to a site that looks beautiful. You scroll down to see more, only to find that your mouse or trackpad is malfunctioning. The page jerks about or scrolls in slow motion. It doesn’t stop moving when you stop scrolling. Sometimes you scroll and everything disappears from the screen; you have to keep scrolling until content reappears. And sometimes instead of scrolling top to bottom; the whole page lurches sideways!

From the designers’ perspective, taking over scrolling allows them to craft a user’s experience — they want the user to view the site in a particular way. A way that is often more akin to a presentation than a traditional website. Scrolljacking can be used to good effect, but it’s problematic. In this article I’d like to make the case against scrolljacking. If you disagree, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments below.

Scrolljacking Is Bad For Mobile Users

Pages that use scrolljacking tend to be image and JavaScript heavy, which means they take a long time to load, especially on mobile. That’s a problem in itself, but it’s made much worse by scrolljacking because the scroll functionality usually doesn’t work well until all of the assets have loaded. Often a user will see some content, try to scroll, and because required assets haven’t loaded, they’ll be unable to move within the page or be presented with an empty space.

Scrolljacking Is Bad For Accessibility

Many users with accessibility issues navigate sites with screen readers and the keyboard. It is possible to implement scrolljacking in an accessibility-friendly way, but it’s difficult and many scrolljacking sites are not keyboard friendly.

Shaumik Daityari has addressed this issue on Sitepoint, finding that:

“It’s almost impossible to navigate through the keyboard because of two issues. One, there is no visible focus when I tab through the keyboard. Secondly, the elements that are selected through the keyboard are not in the same sequence as compared to the mouse scrolling.”

Bold design that challenges the status quo is important, but, in 2015, scrolljacking isn’t all that bold, and it prevents a significant number of users from being able to use web pages properly.

Scrolljacking Is Bad For Everyone

We interact with the web through our browsers, and there are time-hallowed user-interface paradigms that everyone who uses the web expects to be in place on every site. One example is the effect that right-clicking has: it should always bring up a context menu. Sites that attempt to stop the context menu overstep and break one of the fundamental user interface constants of the web. The same is true of scrolling. We know how scrolling works. We know what is supposed to happen. It’s part of our muscle memory, and it degrades our experience when our browsers behave in unexpected ways. Scrolljacking is simply rude.

Robin Rendle puts scrolljacking in its place when he says:

“Scrolljacking, as I shall now refer to it both sarcastically and honestly, is a failure of the web designer’s first objective; it attacks a standardized pattern and greedily assumes control over the user’s input.”

I take some solace from the apparent decline of scrolljacking on sites like Apple’s, which was one the horses pulling this particular bandwagon along, but there is still enough enthusiasm for the idea that new examples of scrolljacking proliferate.

As I said earlier, I’d love to hear what you think about the scrolljacking trend. Do you think my objections are overblown, or do you dislike scrolljacking as much as I do? Let me know in the comments.

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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