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Is there a deep study that suggests to place a scrollbar on the right? Personally I move it to the left whenever it's possible (firefox allow this, as well as xterm and emacs).

I know that placing a scrollbar on the left is considered useful only while typing in "right-to-left" languages like Hebrew, but premises for this are unknown for me.

Looking on screenshots of NeXT desktop, for example, one can see, that scrollbars are always on the left side and there are only English characters.

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9 Answers 9

If we are really reading in an F-pattern (reading pattern), I think putting the scrollbar on the left would create more noise than on the right. No?

And I totally agree with @Glen Lipka about the mental model. If the mouse is the extension of our hand, try scrolling with your fingers on the left of the screen with an iPad. Does it feel natural? Efficient?..since your arm is in the way.

Of course, I'm right-handed and I learned since I'm little that the scrollbar is on the right. Anyway, interesting discussion.

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As a matter of interest, I wonder how many people use scrollbars now that most mice have a scroll wheel. I almost never use a scrollbar. As such, it provides more of a visual indication of how much more content there is.

BTW: As regards the question: I would not be different for the sake of chasing 1% productivity. People are easily confused.

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In most X Window toolkits you can click with a second mouse button on a scrollbar to immediately jump to the desired location. It's very handy. –  Henry Flower Dec 30 '10 at 15:02
    
Take a closer look at people when they are using a touchpad (scrolling hotspots vs. moving a mouse cursor to the scrollbar). –  Henry Flower Dec 30 '10 at 15:11
    
I actually drag the scrollbar slider all the time when the page is long and I'm skimming, it's faster than scrolling and scrolling and scrolling with the mouse wheel. –  Pam G May 29 '11 at 3:02

I don’t know of any studies showing superiority of a scrollbar on the right, but I do know one study that suggested the left is superior for most situations:

Kellener, E., Barnes, G.M. and Lingard, R. (2001), Effects of scroll bar orientation and item justification, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 45th Annual Meeting

The increase in clutter apparently is not an issue. The advantage comes from the scrollbar being nearer where the mouse pointer tends to be, and, thanks to a left-to-right layout of content, the mouse is more likely on the left than right (e.g., to select text or a control, like menu item). I know I find it painful to watch users alternate between the Back button in the upper left and the scrolling down in the lower right when searching multiple web pages, especially when they are using a laptop touchpad.

I don’t know why the scrollbar ended up on the right, but I can find only two cases where it was put on the left (NeXT’s OPENSTEP, and Oracle Applications User Interface Standards), so I guess the right seemed like the most natural place. Maybe the scrollbar is expected to be used after scanning the screen, so, like the OK and Cancel buttons, it’s placed where the eyes will find it then. In practice (shrug), it doesn’t seem to be that important. Users don’t seem to have a hard time finding a browser back button, after all.

Despite the advantages of a left scrollbar, however, I would advise against mixing apps with left and right scrollbars on the same workstation, at least, not without heavy testing to be sure it retains its advantages without causing problems on other apps. You don’t want users slewing the mouse one way then reversing because they forgot “where” they are. That could quickly wipe out any advantage for left scrollbars. Besides, with the advent of the mouse scroll wheel, the advantage of a left scrollbar has been diminished.

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Scrollbars on the left make a lot of ergonomic sense in a text editor; in fact I won't have it any other way!

When you're editing (in a LTR language) your text is usually left-heavy. Thus your cursor is more likely to be near the left edge than the right edge, meaning you have to move the mouse a shorter distance to start scrolling. When you found the text you were looking for, you again have a smaller distance to cover to position the caret.

Having to move the mouse a smaller distance also means that mouse acceleration isn't as likely kick in and throw your accuracy way off.

All the original unix scrollbars (Xterm and old Xt based applications) were on the left, probably for this very reason.

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Personally, I like the scroll bar on the right because there is nearly always content down the left side of the screen, while the right side is generally more empty. Putting the scroll bar on the right makes the screen less cluttered.

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I would strongly discourage you from putting the scroll bar on the left, even if there are multiple "deep studies" that prove it's better. You will seriously confuse users. I'd consider familiarity a core UI design principle.

There are multiple studies that prove the superiority of DVORAK keyboards over QWERTY -- a keyboard designed to slow down users. Yet, no non-techie types have ever heard of DVORAK keyboards, or care to.

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So I guess we shouldn't bother with electric cars because people are familiar with gas stations. –  Zifre Sep 1 '10 at 23:05
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Yes, we should build electric cars. But we shouldn't put the steering wheel on the right in the U.S., or on the left in Australia. –  Hisham Sep 2 '10 at 18:49
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@Zifre Buying gas isn't an ingrained habit like muscle memory. I could stop doing that any time (and rejoice at not needing to!), but it would take a good bit of retraining for me to learn to look for the scroll bar in a new place. –  Pam G May 29 '11 at 3:07
    
I know that RTL programs that move the scrollbars to the left are extermely annoying that way and even though I've used some of them for years I can never get used to that. –  configurator Jun 30 '11 at 20:31

The scroll bar is usually used after the content of the page above the fold has been consumed.

I.e. the users first look at the content or read it and once they've reached the bottom, they scroll to see the rest.

Since the language determines the order of consumption, the users will have finished the visible content and would need to see more (scroll) when they're on the bottom right part of the page (for left to right languages). Hence the shortest movement would be to the right.

According to Fitt's law mentioned several times, the closer the target, the easier it is to acquire. Combine that with the fact that scroll bars are most often the rightmost element and you also enable the user to "throw" the mouse as far as they want and still hit it.

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This implies that users scrolls down every time after reading exactly 1 line, which of course is almost never true. What if user wants to skip 1 paragraph or 2 or n paragraphs? Where would user eyes be: on the left side of the text or on the right? –  Henry Flower Sep 1 '10 at 18:01
    
I don't understand your "after reading 1 line" conclusion... Assuming the user is actually reading, he or she will finish the visible content. Then they'll either drag, or simply click once to scroll to the next page. They'll continue consuming a whole page and then scroll again. The scenario you're describing is less common in my opinion, plus the benefit of the scroll bar being on the left is not really noticeable. –  Dan Barak Sep 1 '10 at 20:03
    
The Fitts' Law piece doesn't apply at all to right vs. left. If it's on the left, you still have infinite surface area, just in the opposite direction, and can "throw" just as hard :) –  cbosco Sep 1 '10 at 20:28
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@dan: nobody reads the whole page this days--modern user like to skim over the content like crazy. And if this content contains the text their eyes will be on the left (on the right for Hebrew, I guess). But the scrollbar not only helps to "scroll" but to guess the current position on the page. If the scrollbar is on the right, user constantly glances to the opposite side of the page. –  Henry Flower Sep 1 '10 at 20:46
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@patrick: it certainly depends on the size of a window. –  Henry Flower Sep 1 '10 at 21:54

I think of this more as a mental model issue. Imagine if there was no mouse, but rather you were doing it with your hand. Most people are right-handed. My mental model is that I am moving the scrollbar with my right hand. Therefore, scrollbar on the left would indicate that my arm is moving across (in front of) the content and blocking my vision so I can scroll the page.

Of course, the mouse makes this ONLY a mental image and not actually blocking my face. However, as I imagine the scrollbar on the left, I keep feeling like I am reaching over the content to scroll, rather than scrolling from the side.

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"moving the scrollbar with my right hand" I guess you actually have 2 hands. Why do yo "mentally" choose to scroll with the right one? The "right-handed" issue doesn't make sense to me. (I'm right-handed too) And, btw, what was wrong with a mental model of NeXT GUI designers? Why they choose "the left side"? –  Henry Flower Sep 1 '10 at 16:52
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Hard to tell whether it's a mental model thing or that your mental model is a product of using right hand side scroll bars for 20 (?) years, though. The best thing to do would be to test it on tribes in the Amazon who've had no exposure to computer technology and see what happens. Oh. –  Rahul Sep 1 '10 at 20:38
    
Interesting discussion. :) I wonder how left handed users feel about it. –  Glen Lipka Sep 2 '10 at 16:29
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Check out this recently published Scientific American article. You Are What You Touch: How Tool Use Changes the Brain's Representations of the Body –  Patrick McElhaney Sep 9 '10 at 2:13
    
@Henry Flower - I'd choose the right one because that's the one I use the most (if I want to use one of them, it will be the one I am best with). Secondly: Mostly, text reads left to right, so I will have a smaller chance of obscuring that if I have my hand/cursor on the other side. –  Jonta Apr 11 '11 at 21:07

I can think of two reasons to keep the scroll bar on the right:

  1. People tend to read left and click right (at least this is true in left-to-right languages). meaning that overall the scrollbar would be easier to use on the right side of an app.
  2. The scrollbar is on the right of a majority of applications (I can't think of one I've used that had it on the left off-hand), and it's expected behavior. To have an easy-to-use UI, you need a compelling reason to not have thing behave as the user would naturally expect.
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Agree with #2 pretty strongly. I don't think there's deep research on the subject; it's a suboptimal solution that became a convention based on tech limitations of the time –  cbosco Sep 1 '10 at 20:31

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