Let's say there's a website with a row of gallery thumbnails you can click on. It looks like this:

enter image description here

As a Mac user having always used either some sort of trackpad (built into the MacBook, or a Magic Trackpad) or even Magic/Mighty Mouse where you can scroll in all directions, my gut is to move the mouse over the images and scroll horizontally.

What about Windows users, though? I wonder if their first reaction is either:

  1. Where the heck are the scrollbars?! I give up.
  2. Ah I see there are more images out of the view, I'll just scroll horizontally.

My goal is to make it obvious and intuitive for all users, regardless of platform.

  • 6
    I find your thinly veiled contempt of Windows users amusing.
    – Dan
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 0:43
  • 1
    It's a serious question though. Mac users are used to different ways of interacting with interfaces, I think, than Windows users. Is it as easy, for instance, to scroll in any direction on a device one might use with Windows? (Logitech mice, etc) On a Mac, it's a thoughtless swipe in any direction. I don't want to burden the user and discourage them from using the site.
    – ffxsam
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 0:45
  • I will just add briefly that you can make horizontal scrolling occur if the user's mouse is over the pane, and they do a 'vertical scroll'. This is common, but has trade offs (you can't vertically scroll the page at the same time you scroll the pane). Also keep in mind many new PCs have touchscreens, unlike Macs, allowing intuitive scrolling on PC displays.
    – Dan
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 1:16
  • 1
    Related, but of topic: don't use scroling panes / carousels / slideshows. Ever. Nobody clicks them. Really. shouldiuseacarousel.com
    – RobSeg
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 9:54
  • How would you recommend representing 8-15 or so thumbnails below a product image then? Just curious
    – ffxsam
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 18:42

2 Answers 2


Apple removed scrollbars from appearing, unless in use, from viewports in 2011 with the release of Lion, immediately sparking multiple articles about how to get them back. The usability rationale and merit of this can still be debated today.

Not showing it until it is needed is a clean design and does not clutter the display, but the user must figure out how to get them to appear.

Showing them always adds clutter, but clearly indicates what actions are possible.

To illustrate the problem with not showing the scrollbars, take an example similar to yours and ask: how does a OS X user know what to do when they see this:

Two photos side-by-side

The lack of scrollbars actually create a Gulf of Execution, in that the system is not presenting the proper artifacts that imply that the viewport can be scrolled.

Assuming that no modifications have been made to Windows' default rendering of a viewport, they will show a scrollbar. So your original picture would appear something like this:

Row of images with scrollbar, some images disappearing to side

So actually, your challenge is how to represent to OS X users that it is a scrollable space!

If you’re writing a common desktop application, let the operating system do what it does. OS X will, by default, hide the scrollbars but users can turn them back on. Windows will show the scrollbars.

If we’re talking about the web, you have two choices:

  1. “Force” the scrollbar back using pseudo elements, realizing that they are not supported in all browsers.
  2. Create your own scrolling mechanism and hide the scrollbars using standard CSS properties.

Row of images with arrows to left and right

If you make your own scrolling mechanism you will force all users to figure out how it works for your application/page. It might not be hard for them, but they will have to put in that effort.

If you “leave it alone” then Windows users will see a scrollbar. OS X users will be left with hopefully enough subtle visual queues to realize that the region can be scrolled horizontally.

(Answered from a Mac.)

  • “Force” the scrollbar back using pseudo elements now I'm not suggesting this whole idea is good, but you don't have to do it that way. element{overflow:hidden} and element:hover{overflow:scroll} combined with negative margin black magic works just fine, because browsers retain scrolling even after the element is not scrollable anymore Commented Aug 22, 2015 at 15:21
  • @transistor09 - does that make the OSX scroll bar appear even when default settings will hide it? The only way I've heard previously to get it back is via pseudo elements. Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 0:19
  • Oh, you want to ensure that it's there. What I'd suggest in that case is use the browser's scrolling mechanism with overflow:scroll, hide the scrollbar that would appear just in some cases, listen for scroll events and provide your own alternative. Again, I'm not a huge fan of normalizations like this. Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 15:15

As someone who is platform agnostic. I have to say that horizontal scrolling confuses me in either OS. With vertical scrolling I would immediately reach for the scroll wheel on the mouse (or gently stroke the top of the magic mouse) or use the multi-touch touch-pad with two fingers to scroll down the page.

I am currently writing this from a company Dell Latitude laptop running Win7 and I notice that the track pad is not multi-touch but has markings that indicate both vertical and horizontal scrolling capabilities when used in the marked zones - this, however, appears to have been disabled so I have resorting to using the direction keys instead - only occasionally do I actually use the scroll bar to move the page - It should be noted though that I DO use the scroll bar as visual feedback for how far I've gone and how much is left.

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