Explaining scroll direction: Where do you stand? AKA "Am I directionally challenged?"

Figured this could be interesting… Maybe even deserving of a poll? :sunglasses:

On a website on my phone yesterday, a little text-box/blurb said something along the lines of “scroll up to see how our prices go down”… I then realised, I have the completely opposite idea of scroll direction. I think. Or maybe, I don’t?

When I scroll down, what is visible on the page rises – it goes up, as I move lower across the page? Is that right? Or is my moving the page to see what is “lower down”, resulting in page scrolling up? Am I then scrolling down?
And, does this change depending on whether the “scroll” is in reference to what the user is doing, or what “the page” is doing?

See, I would have written that blurb on the website as follows: “*Scroll down to see our our prices go down”…
Am I the only one in the world that has this confused?

This is affected by the “Scroll Direction: Natural” in your trackpad system settings. (I don’t use a mouse but I think scroll direction is a thing there also.)

When I use a finger on my iPhone screen or on my MacBook Air’s trackpad, sliding up pushes the page up. That’s why Apple labels it the “Natural” setting.

I get that – but how do you “explain” that action (of “sliding up pushes the page up”) verbally?

You “sliding up” with your finger (pushing the page up) – would you describe that as scrolling down, or scrolling up?

When I touch the screen or trackpad and push up with my finger, and the page of text moves up, I call that scrolling up.

See, that’s what I’m checking.

I think of that as “scrolling down”… because I am seeing what is “lower” on the page – I have to scroll down to get to the content below what I am seeing…

Just trying to work out if I alone think this!


Are you using a mouse with a scroll wheel, by any chance?

Nope. Trackpad on all my Macs. But was a long-time mouse-user in my previous Windows’ life…

I get the connection – but do wonder whether that association is being broken by the millions and millions who potentially never use mice, but only interact through touch. :man_shrugging:t2:

EDIT: This might be a bit like “GIF” and “G(J)IFF” >> there’s the right way of describing it, and then there’s whatever it has morphed into… :laughing:

I would agree. To me the direct touch on an iPhone screen, the one-level indirect touch on a trackpad, is simpler and more straight-forward, dare I say “natural,” than using a second-level of indirection with a mouse and scroll wheel.

P.S Don’t get me started on GIF! :slightly_smiling_face:

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You are actually moving the page to change what is visible in the viewport so probably just “scroll” would have done it as it then is settings agnostic.

To me “scroll down” means the lower parts of the page come into view, whatever I have to flick, touch, drag etc.

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That’s how I think of it – but seems that there are different views on that. Was curious if I was the outlier.

Notice this quite a bit when a colleague is standing next to me, and we are looking at my screen on my monitor. Often happened that they will say either “scroll down/up”, and invariably – I do the opposite to what they thought I would, since clearly their understanding of the direction involved, is different to mine!

“Scroll down” makes a lot more sense to me, when revealing information further down on the page.

The whole “natural” phrasing is bonkers to me, because there’s nothing natural about any of it. If you want to get picky, nothing is moving; the computer is redrawing the screen such that the further “down” portions are now visible. So “down” makes sense here.

But no one thinks that way. So let’s consider moving a sheet of paper behind some kind of barrier with a cut-out window. Sure, you move the underlying page up, but it’s to see what further down.

And while we’re at it, we’re using the verb “scroll” – which refers to, you know, scrolls, which typically unrolled down, revealing what was further down on the parchment or vellum or whatnot.

So to me, “down” makes the most sense. But let’s face it, this is all essentially arbitrary terminology – a kind of verbal skeuomorphism. Until there’s some true consensus (and there may never be – flammable / inflammable anyone?), we’ll just have to muddle through.

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I don’t think this has been mentioned yet, but with the old way (not Apple’s “natural” scrolling), the movement of the scroll wheel (up/down) matched the movement of the scroll bar on the screen, not the movement of the content (page, etc). When one scrolls down, the scroll bar control moves down on the screen, but the content moves up.

However, with “natural” scrolling, when moving the scroll wheel down, the content moves down and the scroll bar control moves up, which is revered of course. I understand why they made the change. After all, more people have phones than Macs. But as ‘old-guys’, some of us have been resistant to change.

For that matter, I do find the “natural” scrolling more natural when using a trackpad. In fact, I have my Mac set up so that I get “natural” scrolling with the trackpad, but old-school scrolling with the mouse. And no, I do not find that confusing at all. I could re-learn to use “natural” scrolling with the mouse, but I am also required to use my employer-provided Windows machine every day, and that does not have “natural” scrolling. However, that machine doesn’t have a trackpad and scrolling with a trackpad feels much more like using a touch screen (phone/tablet). In my head, scrolling with a mouse and scrolling with a trackpad/touch screen are two different, unrelated operations. Therefore, I don’t get confused by the difference in direction that I move my hand.

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Do Windows PCs still not have decent trackpads? I know I never had one on any of the Windows laptops supplied to me at work (most recently three years ago).

I also think this way, however, I use natural scrolling everywhere (both trackpad and mouse scroll wheel).

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From the POV of documentation, you refer to the desired result, the behavior of the screen that causes the data at the top of the screen to appear, rather than the gestures of the user, because the user’s gestures are dependent on their device and System settings.

The user may have a touch pad, a mouse with a scroll wheel, or a standard mouse, or one of several other accessibility devices and options. You don’t know. So if you are referring to a desired outcome, you refer to that outcome, not the method used to reach it.

When Apple “changed” the behavior of scroll bars, I’d already been using Macs for over a decade. I was not happy. I resisted. Eventally, I gave in.

If I’m reading this correctly, I think I see this the same as you. The scroll direction refers not to the movement of my finger (or mouse) on the screen but to the movement of the image on the screen. Like a sheet of paper, for me, the text as the start of a website is the top, with each line after being down (relative to the first line). So, if there is an “about us” link at the bottom of the page, I scroll down to it, even if my finger is making an upward motion. I guess I’m literally “pulling the page upward” to bring the bottom of the page onto the screen.

If I’m at the bottom of the page, I scroll back up to get to the top.

I have no idea how someone who’s never touched a printed book or piece of paper would experience this. God help us in a truly paperless society. :slight_smile:

This is interesting to think about, because on Mac (Windows, or Linux, too) if you grab the vertical scroll bar, you actually drag it downward to get down. So, having the mouse movement the same way seems to make sense. I don’t remember a day when PC mice scrolled down to go down. I would be very interested to see if there were any studies that showed it being more intuitive for people to scroll up to go down versus this other way.

Seems like one of those things that is too blurry to ever hope to make standard in the way it’s communicated. A slash used to be a slash. Then people started having to refer to back slashes, which led to some people calling a slash a forward slash, in a redundant (but understandable) attempt to make the distinction clearer. Now I sometimes find myself unsure, at least for an instant, of what either one is. I had to stop briefly to clarify it for myself before writing this paragraph.

When scrolling, I always think in terms of my own relative location within the document or page. “Down” means moving closer to the end; “up” means moving closer to the beginning. But I can certainly understand why “scrolling up” could come to be understood in terms of the physical action rather than the content being scrolled. Seems inevitable, really.

You could argue that the content-focused approach is reinforced by the use of terms like “above” and “below” when referring to a place in the text before or after what is currently being read. But I would think most people rarely encounter that usage in daily life.

And just this morning I was sent a long text document of instructions that referred to “the following” items but in fact was referring to items that had already been listed before that sentence. The person who wrote it thought that “the following” meant something other than “the items you’re about to read right after this.”

Some very interesting points being made. Glad to read I’m not the only one who feels the inconsistency!

Oh, this old chestnut. When I started working, the ‘dumb terminal’ I used had “roll keys”. Then we moved to PCs with terminal emulators and they had “page keys”. Roll up became Page down.

The fundamental issue is whether you are considering the content or the viewport. Personally, I think the technically correct definition is that “paging down” and “scrolling up” are equivalent, but that’s not a hill I would die on. Think about holding an actual scroll and consider what you would do to read down the content.

Leaving aside that on modern Macs you may not see them, scroll bars can be dragged and when you do so, the content moves in the opposite direction. That’s the issue. The scroll bar represents the viewport which has no real correlation with the physical world.

The appearance of touch screens suddenly threw out the concept of a viewport. Even though it is still there, the user no longer sees nor interacts with the viewport. It’s all about the content. As soon as Natural Scrolling became available I turned it on and have not looked back. And… I use Windows every day, including remotely via a Mac many days, and I have few problems.

If you want clarity of communication, use different terms. “Scroll below to see more.”