Let's assume that playlists are groups of items that are selected for some reason (to be played, to be converted or to be used in any other operation).

My question is: what is the best way (if there is a best way) to display playlists? Should we display them vertically or horizontally?

For instance, services like youtube and grooveshark display their playlists in a horizontal way, but players like Windows Media Player and iTunes display their playlists vertically.

Is it a matter of space organization, of the item's type or should we consider other factors?

  • Please check that you aren't confusing horizontal and vertical here.
    – JohnGB
    Mar 5, 2013 at 18:42
  • I don't know how Youtube does playlists, but bisc8 is using vertical and horizontal correctly in the other cases. Mar 5, 2013 at 19:04

2 Answers 2


I think there are two important considerations. First, it depends on whether the items in your "groups of items" are wide or tall. Text items, for example, should almost always be listed horizontally, so that the distance between items (ie, the line height) is both relatively short (and, in the case of text, constant). For short lists, this isn't so important, but playlists are arbitrarily long. Compare this list:

All Along the Watchtower | SpottieOttieDopaliscious | Let's Dance | Watching the Detectives

To this one:

  • All Along the Watchtower
  • SpottieOttieDopaliscious
  • Let's Dance
  • Watching the Detectives

OK, so the comparison here isn't true because I can't control the formatting of the list, but is illustrative of my points: the vertical list is easier to scan and (with equivalent formatting) makes better use of the display area (after just one more song, the horizontal list will bleed off the right edge).

Of course if you have items that are tall, you'll get more mileage out of listing them horizontally. If they're exactly square, it doesn't matter.

The second consideration is that horizontal scrolling is still a second class citizen on a number of platforms and, even, on supported platforms is a more recent paradigm. If you are designing for a platform and user base that supports horizontal scrolling equally well, then this point is moot, but I tend to prefer vertical scrolling in general for this very reason.


I think it depends on your use case and your users.

That said, the trendier and more modern services all use horizontal lists (you could add Pandora to your list) while older services like media player use the standard list although I think YouTube has gone back to a vertical list in some cases.

The horizontal list gives you more room to include an album cover or video preview in a larger size while the standard list gives you more room for text and descriptions. All in all, I think you could make either look great if you execute well.

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