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Given a list of items (messages in an email reader, tracks in a music library, options in a menu) that can be stepped through with arrow keys, when is it appropriate for scrolling to wrap around when you hit the bottom or top of the list?

I've seen this implemented both ways, but never seen a discussion of why.

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Personally I would, as Windows also does this for context menus etc., so probably the user expects it in your application too. –  pimvdb Mar 22 '11 at 15:33
    
@pimvdb Interesting. Windows wraps around menus but OSX doesn't. –  Patrick McElhaney Mar 22 '11 at 16:07
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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

When the list has no specific order (or rather, there's no "first and last"), and the length is comparedly small (limited or fixed).

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That makes sense. Where applicable, it should be possible to jump to the first or last item by holding down an arrow key, flicking a scroll wheel, etc. (See "mile high menu bar"). –  Patrick McElhaney Mar 22 '11 at 14:13
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Personally, I'd be disoriented if I was scrolling down a list of items, reached the end, and then had the program move me back to the first item. I would be better if the program had a "Back to First Email" button that appears when I reach the end. Come to think about it, I don't recall running into a program that exhibits this behavior; I'd be curious to see examples.

IMO, moving a user back to the top of the list makes sense only in limited situations, e.g. when the user is setting an alarm and the list consists of the hours or minutes.

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I would only make a list wrap around if it is fixed length (for example a list of selections) at all times. Otherwise it feels like confusing.

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I agree with @peter and @peter :) What comes to mind are a few conditions when the wrapping is ok. One of the main problems here is that the user might not notice that he had completed a full circle and is now seeing the same items a second time. So, to avoid this, I'd use wrap only when both these conditions hold:

  1. The list is not dynamic and not very large.
  2. I'm going through the items in a master-detail relationship, so that in the master list I can see the selection moving.

Which is why the wrapping in Facebook and Picasaweb albums is so bad. I keep realizing that I've already completed one cycle only about 5 photos into it.

It's ok for instance in the Options dialog of Word 2007 (it doesn't actually exist there, but IMO it would be ok if it did):

enter image description here

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