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Scrollbars are a pulley system September 21, 2008

Posted by Michael Kowalski in user interface.

I only realised that when I was playing with my recently acquired iPhone. On the iPhone, when you want to read further down a page, you flick the page upwards and up it goes. With old-school scrollbars, you drag the scrollbar down to pull the page up – as if the scrollbar was attached to the page by a pulley. 

The iPhone approach feels a lot more natural to me (after a little initial disorientation just because the scrollbar paradigm is so familiar). It uses direct manipulation, highly regarded as an interaction design technique, but frequently difficult to implement in practice. The iPhone, with its often gestural interface, is full of direct manipulation.

Now I’ve got the pulley idea in my head, there’s something kind of Heath Robinson/19th Century about those old scrollbars. What exactly were they supposed to correspond to in the broader desktop metaphor anyway?



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