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The application that we are building has a lot of data and most of this data is requested to be displayed in a table.

Our original goal was to stick with web standards and only display enough data that can fit on a 1366 resolution monitor. Our first solution was to give the user their absolute needed information and put it into a 100% width table so that the table was responsive and could still fit onto a laptop. As we gather more feedback from users it tends to lead towards the request of more information in the table.

In order to have all the information the user's want we would have to implement horizontal scrollbars in the web application.

Is it ok to have these horizontal scrollbars in a web application?

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No no no no no, never. Unless you can freeze panes like in MS Excel. Otherwise - no! –  Benny Skogberg Feb 17 at 22:28
    
I don't know that there is any web standard that equates to 1366. That's just an arbitrary number. –  DA01 Feb 18 at 2:31

2 Answers 2

Horizontal Scrolling: A Huge No No

I would honestly have to say no. Usability expert Jakob Nielson would tell you the same. In his article Top 10 Web Design Mistakes of 2002, he plain out states that one should avoid horizontal scrolling on web pages at all costs. Today this is 10x less acceptable than it was 12 years ago, especially since websites have become far more responsive.

Read his article titled, Scrolling & Scrollbars (2005) for a more detailed look into scrolling, and why horizontal scrolling is a bad idea.

Crunching Some Numbers

If you'd like a more fresh take on scrolling, numbers, and percentages that people spend not scrolling horizontally take a look at Horizontal Attention Leans Left (2010).

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Other Questions On This Site

I think you'd find this ux question very helpful!

Horizontal Scrolling vs Horizontal Swiping

Last but not least, horizontal scrolling may be a bad idea on laptop browsers, but according to research studies by Neilson, horizontal swiping on mobile devices should be fine. More info on that here.

  • Users have become more aware of horizontal swiping than they were in our previous research. The horizontal swipe gesture is often used to "flip" through deck-of-cards or carousel features. Swiping is still less discoverable than most other ways of manipulating mobile content, so we recommend including a visible cue when people can swipe, or they might never do so and thus miss most of your offerings. Also, you should avoid swipe ambiguity: don't employ the same swipe gesture to mean different things on different areas of the same screen. This recommendation is the same for mobile phones and tablet usability, showing the similarity between these two gesture-based platforms.

  • It's interesting to consider the difference between mouse-driven desktop design and gesture-driven touchscreen design here. Desktop websites have a strong guideline to avoid horizontal scrolling. But for touch-screens, horizontal swipes are often fine. Indeed, mobile-device users typically expect to horizontally swipe their way through a carousel. Of course, this is just one more example of the meta-guideline that sufficiently different platforms require different user interface designs. This, again, is the underlying reason that mobile sites perform better than full sites when used on a mobile device.*

Where To Go From Here

I would defintiely take this as a way to think of more creative ways to display the information. Maybe even thinking of how this could work with vertical scrolling? I think you'd really enjoy this article on UX Myths, titled Myth #3 People Don't Scroll as it it very informative and helpful.

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"Today this is 10x less acceptable than it was 12 years ago" - I disagree. It is more acceptable today because of the proliferation of touch-based devices (where swiping horizontally is a common navigational mechanism) and improved trackpads on laptops supporting swipe gestures. I have to agree that it should be used with caution however, due to it being less "intuitive" on mouse-based computers than vertical scrolling. –  Ben Feb 17 at 23:31
    
In terms of people actually "knowing" that they need to scroll left, I'd say I agree with you. however with respect to new creative ways of displaying information, I would call horizontal scrolling a crutch. In my answer above I separate scrolling from swiping, because again depending on the device in question, the level of usability and friendliness can vary. Assuming this web app will be viewed on both touch-based and mouse-based devices, I would say it is 10x less acceptable today than 12 yrs ago, because today there are much more creative ways of displaying data then there was back then. –  VAlexander Feb 17 at 23:44
    
Nielsen is the king of over-simplified truisms. Yes, they are needed--especially back in 2002, but he's not gospel and you have to take context into consideration. There is a difference between 'a web page that's too wide and forces extended horizontal scrolling' vs. 'we need to show a lot of data in a table'. The act of horizontal scrolling may very well be a trade off that people are more than willing to make to see the data they are looking for. –  DA01 Feb 18 at 2:35

Yes, it's fine. It's a data table. If there is enough data and it's relative and important, that's pretty much the only option you have...and one that is tried and true (for example, that's exactly what Excel uses).

Now, should that be the ONLY way to view the data? Maybe not. Perhaps it makes sense to have an 'overview table' that can be swapped for a 'detailed table'.

Or maybe all data doesn't needed to be presented for every row all at once and you have an expand/collapse rows option to show details selectively.

It all depends on the data and your user's needs.

Also, if the goal is to be responsive, realize there's just no way to make large data sets 'fit' every screen out there. Even 1366 is a somewhat arbitrary number and still a lot bigger than an iPhone screen.

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