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Surely these days users are either using touch devices to scroll with gestures or are dragging the thumb of the scrollbar or clicking inside the track. Would it be a bad idea to remove the arrow buttons from my scrollbars? A trend has to start somewhere doesn't it? :p

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6 Answers 6

up vote 19 down vote accepted

The arrows on scrollbars are a functional element. If you click on them they move the screen up or down. Clicking on the area between the arrows and the position marker usually moves the screen up or down a page at a time. They are therefore not redundant as nothing else behaves in the same way. Whether or not they are needed is a different issue.

While my experience has been that most people don't use the arrows anymore, there are a few people (usually older users) that do. So whether or not you should leave them out (assuming you have a choice) depends on your user base and their preferred way of scrolling.

Edit: Jeff caught a mistake, which I have now corrected.

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I agree. My mom still uses them. She's just about the only person I've seen use them. So if you're designing for younger crowds, I wouldn't say they're necessary. –  Henry Dec 16 '12 at 18:08
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I think you generalize too much to say it's only older users using the up/down arrows. It depends largely on the amount of data there is to scroll and how much precision is needed to find something. I often use the jump page (click between arrow and thumb) to get in the general vicinity of where I want to be and then the arrows for very fine-grained adjustments. I think it would be a mistake to remove this capability. –  Bill Dagg Dec 19 '12 at 20:29
    
@Bill where did I say that only older users use them? –  JohnGB Dec 20 '12 at 3:16
    
@JohnGB: Don't think you did. It was a comment on Henry's comment. –  Bill Dagg Dec 20 '12 at 6:36
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Mac OS X scrollbars has no these arrows (at least by default) for a couple of years already. And it seems like most of the users are OK with this.

But, for Mac OS X it's a system-wide change and every (almost) app is affected by it so everything behaves the same way. Actually, I don't see any reason to drop these arrows off (except for the rare design purposes) from your app at least until it will not be done system-wide or by majors (I mean, popular apps). I do believe it's not a big UX problem at all, but keep in mind that changing the behaviour (even slightly) of the standard controls may confuse and harm your users.

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Latest Firefox on Mac OS X does have arrows on the vertical ends of the scrollbar, so does my Finder window scroll bars, and I am pretty sure I did not change from any default setting on that - the default might in fact be to have the arrows showing. –  kontur Dec 17 '12 at 9:42
    
@kontur I believe, it depends on a OS X version and input devices you're using –  alexeypegov Dec 18 '12 at 9:50
    
yes, indeed. my point rather was that even on Mac OS it doesn't seem to be the default to have them not showing. –  kontur Dec 18 '12 at 13:23
    
@kontur and my point was about the consistency of the interface. Still, I believe it's a default in some cases. –  alexeypegov Dec 18 '12 at 14:10
    
ah okay, misunderstood you then :) –  kontur Dec 18 '12 at 15:00
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You're all forgetting

ACCESSIBILITY!

Various physical conditions can make scrolling or dragging really difficult. Clicking is a comparatively simple action to do. Buttons help.

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Unfortunately, there are more of these "older users" than JohnGB things, it's just we usually don't mingle with them.

Recently I met a girl - she is about 27ish, working in the online marketing industry - and she told me in a conversation that she never uses sliding on mobile phones, she needs explicit buttons for everything.

So, it's not just older users. It's everyone except for the 10 percent of the technically inclined we meet.

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I never said it was just older users, I said it was usually older users. I've done a fair bit of testing and less than 5% of the people I have tested with use them. But as I said, find out what your users prefer and go with that. –  JohnGB Dec 16 '12 at 17:25
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How does she use even the most basic software if she doesn't use sliding? I don't see how you could use any android or iOS devices this way. She just looks at the frist few settings in the settings app? Or just the top of the webpage she's browsing? This sounds like an extreme edge-case user. –  Henry Dec 16 '12 at 18:22
    
@Henry: no, I guess she does scrolling on a vertical way, but never uses sliding controls, like, sidewise scroll ("swipe") to go to a different menu, or sliding locks, etc. –  Aadaam Dec 17 '12 at 12:23
    
i guess she can't ever unlock an iOS or Android device then. Not sure how far you get in online marketing these days without knowing how to swipe a touch screen. –  Shash Dec 18 '12 at 18:31
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Whenever possible you should follow the conventions of the operating system's UI. Many people are still using older systems in which scrolling down a small amount is best accomplished by clicking on the scroll bar arrows.

The old fashioned scroll bars with arrows is best for Windows XP, and no scroll bars at all is best for touch UIs.

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I would point out another situation where the arrow buttons are useful.

In situations where you can't click and drag, and don't have a scroll-wheel or similar mechanism.

I've occasionally found them nice to have when on a computer with a cranky/difficult mouse (generally a laptop with a really, really bad trackpad).

If you can't click and drag, your only options for scrolling are to click the scroll bar outside of the actual bar, which will move you an entire screen width, or the arrows, which move the screen the typical scroll interval (generally three lines).

You can also use the arrow-keys, but I'm speaking of mouse-based scrolling only


They are also occasionally useful when you're using something like RDP or VNC over a slow connection. You can predict the amount of scrolling fairly precisely, so you can scroll without needing visual feedback. This is nice when your connection is slow to update the framebuffer.

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