Most everything outside of the Internet is vertical. We walk upright. Skyscrapers are, well, sky-high. Books are printed in portrait sizes. Memos, printouts, legal documents too are all printed vertically. Newspapers, magazines, guidebooks – again, the majority are all vertical. Yet computer screens and TV screens are horizontal. Television and movies take advantage of this format, even creating widescreen features that push the horizontal medium even wider. In theory, the Internet should be horizontal too. Yet the majority of sites are designed for the opposite – mirroring the print world. On most sites we scroll downwards, viewing content that rarely uses the full width of our screens (unless you’re still stuck with an 800×600 screen). My blog is an unfortunate example of this very fact due to the locked down templates of typepad when it comes to screen width.
Recently, I came across two different solutions to this problem – both offering a vastly better user experence. The first is the new IBM 41 Tablet Laptop, with 180 degree rotating screen and the ability to view documents and web pages either vertically or horizontally using a touch screen. It’s a great solution to the horizontal/vertical problem, but it’s also nearly $2000 for the entry level model and has a 4 week waiting list to order.
The other interesting solution comes from the user interface used on International Herald Tribune. When you get past intro screens and into the body of many articles, they are presented in a landscape 3 column format, similar to a newspaper. This allows you to scan from left to right, reading the article without scrolling, and then click the "Next" button on the bottom right to read the next page. Reading just a few articles this way, it was amazing how much cleaner they seemed, even if they stretched to multiple pages. The added bonus, which IHT is sure to have considered, is the potential to double advertising space because articles are bound to take more room and more consistently stretch out to over a couple of pages. Hmm, going horizontal improves user experience and adds to the bottom line … they just might be on to something.