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That’s Just How I Scroll

How do you know a page (or any element on that page) scrolls? Well, if it has a scrollbar, that’s a pretty good indication. You might still have to scrapple with your client about “the fold” or whatever, but I don’t think anyone is confused at what a scrollbar is or what it indicates.

But let’s say there is no scrollbar. That’s super common. macOS hides scrollbars by default and only shows them during scroll. Most mobile browsers don’t have scrollbars, even if you attempt to force them with something like overflow: scroll;.

Why does this matter? If you don’t know an area is scrollable, you might miss out on important content or functionality.

I regularly think about the Perfectly Cropped story from Tyler Hall. There is a screen on iOS that has important functionality you need to scroll down to, but there is no indicator whatsoever that you can scroll there.

The result of that was Tyler’s mom literally not being able to find functionality she was used to. Not great.

There is an elaborate way to detect visible scrollbars and force them to be visible, but something about that rubs me the wrong way. It doesn’t honor a user’s preference (assuming it is the user’s preference), requires DOM manipulation tests, and uses vendor-prefixed CSS (which will probably live a long time, but has been standardized now, so maybe not forever).

I enjoy these approaches and by Chris Smith and his thinking:

My favorite are the shadow-based techniques. To me an inset shadow is a really clear indicator, as it makes it appear that content is flowing underneath and the shadow follows an edge that as a hint that you can scroll in that direction. Plus, you’ve got CSS control there so I’d think it could match whatever UI situation you’re in fairly easily.

It should be known though that it can be done entirely in CSS though, no JavaScript, and is one of the great CSS tricks.