Claustrophobic

The Next Web and Read Write Web are two recent redesigns that caught my eye. They’ve got responsive layouts, big typography and have all sorts of good stuff to look at. But the further I dive into these sites, the more I find myself unable to enjoy reading on them. Why is that?

I’m claustrophobic. Always have been. I have to concentrate hard on elevators to keep from freaking out. I had to leave the room during the caves episode of Planet Earth (I actually just got shivers thinking about those underwater caving scenes). As I read more articles on The Next Web and Read Write Web, I start getting that claustrophobic feeling.

Why I’m getting that suffocating feeling has to do with these fixed sidebars:

The Next Web

Read Write Web

As you scroll down the page, the main content moves but the related article and social widget sidebars remain in place. Those sidebars become mosquitoes that you just can’t shake.

Now this fixed sidebar technique is nothing new. Gawker’s redesign has been up for a long while (ironically their current site is a stark Tumblr theme because Sandy brought down their servers), but also this convention is also seen in the iPad’s Mail app, CMS dashboards, and a whole lot of other places.

One of the more common complaints I hear about mobile-first responsive design is that large screen views end up looking vacant and empty. That’s certainly a real challenge and fixed sidebars can fill that void. But for me, that solution results in a cramped feeling, even when all the other aspects of the design are nice, clean and open.

It’s not for me to say that these fixed sidebars aren’t valuable, but as a claustrophobic guy I’d prefer not to have them.

6 Comments

  1. That was exactly my thought too!
    I went from this : http://cl.ly/Ka67 (fixed sidebar)
    to this : http://cl.ly/KaGT (totally different, no sidebar)
    It is from my website christian-fei.com
    I think this way the user can focus much more on the content, likes the site much more.
    In my opinion there is only one exception where the sidebar doesn’t distract that much : csswizardry.com ’cause it’s so minimal.

  2. My biggest problem with fixed sidebars is that (on Android, at least), zooming in to read content will generally result in not being able to read the content at all, as the fixed sidebar zooms over the top of the content.

    I hate fixed sidebars!

  3. I prefer quartz layout – http://qz.com – is more elegant but I think that fixed sidebars now generate more problems than solutions.
    Often I prefer smartphones layout over the optimized “tablet” because they have only one big column of content without this ugly sidebars!

  4. kristin

    I find that the larger issue is that anytime you have multiple columns (or rows…hey netflix!) that scroll independently they can easily create motion sickness. I keep waiting for more information on this to surface. After browsing http://thenextweb.com I have to take a 5min break.

  5. I agree that static sidebars can be awkward. I liked Flipboards approach where it is possible to hide the static sidebar and go full screen with the content instead.

  6. Fred B

    I dislike them almost as much as fixed backgrounds! I actually experience motion sickness when viewing fixed backgrounds, especially if the scrolling content has transparency.

    Designers really need to keep things simple and think about the end user and all of the possibilites that could drive people away from a site.

    http://www.brownielocks.com/fixedbackground.html Awful!

    http://www.users.on.net/~revelation/heroes_comments.htm Awful, especially when so many people viewing the site will no doubt be elderly!