Pagination vs Infinite Scrolling

The Great Debate: Pagination or Infinite Scrolling?

I’ve recently encountered a conundrum with a few clients both at work and otherwise. The conundrum is this – “which method is best to use – pagination or infinite scrolling (where the page never ends)?”. There are, of course, positive and negative points to both. I thought it would be beneficial and somewhat interesting to list them down in an attempt to see if there was a clear winner between the two. Please note, this article is based on a technical, frontend and user experience point of view. Let’s get started.

Infinite Scrolling – The Positives

  • Infinite scrolling is an efficient way of browsing a great deal of content without having to wait for pages to load. Think of Google images as an example: infinite scrolling seems like a perfectly logical method of presenting this type of data
  • It’s a fantastic way of presenting information to users who don’t generally know what they are looking for. They’ll see a large amount of items within a very short time period.
  • It’s beneficial when reading a tutorial. The infinite scroll is far more user friendly than a paginated approach.

Infinite Scrolling – The Negatives

  • Infinite scrolling is not great for page loading times. So much data is loaded onto the users’ screen on first load, and as a consequence, performance is bound to be affected – especially on less powerful devices such as a low end tablet or smartphone. Coincide this with research showing that slow load times result in people leaving your site and the question is starting to answer itself.
  • Results are harder for the user to bookmark on an infinite scrolling interface
  • The scrollbar is constantly changing size. This fails to give the user an indication as to how many results they are likely to be shown, or how long they have left until they reach the end.
  • The footer becomes almost impossible to reach as the content is forever pushing it down.

Pagination – The Positives

  • The benefit of a paginated approach is that it presents the user with a clear indication as to how many results or items they going to be shown per page. Users can then decide whether further narrowing down of the search criteria is needed, or equally, if only a few results are shown, expand their search.
  • According to David Kieras’ video, “Reaching an endpoint provides the user with a sense of control”.
  • Similar to the first point, when a user sees how many pages or results they are presented with, they are able to make an informed decision as to how long it’ll take them to browse the content.
  • A paginated interface allows the opportunity to bookmark pages or locations of items with greater ease. Of course, this again relies on a somewhat static stock level.
  • When building an e-commerce interface, pagination is great. When users shop online, they want to come back to the place that they left to continue their shopping.

 

Pagination – The Negatives

  • There’s only one negative that really springs to mind in relation to pagination and that is the physical act of pressing the next button. There are page loading times involved with loading a whole set of assets again, but this would happen with infinite scrolling anyway

 

To Summarise

There are obviously positives and negatives of both solutions. Whilst infinite scrolling may well suit the Google images or Pinterest environment, it may prove detrimental when a user searches for a shirt, with a certain collar size in a specific colour. It essentially boils down to the situation that you are building for.