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:
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.