Why Didn’t People Scroll The Illusion of Completeness

Even though people are used to scrolling down webpages, why are there still times that they just don’t do it? In usability testing? We often observe people not scrolling down a page, even when there’s more content to consume below because they think that’s all there is available. This causes them to miss out on helpful information and commonly abandon the site altogether.

Certain design patterns lead people to believe that they’ve seen all there is on the page and of course, one that isn’t true. It’s a major usability problem when the visible content on the screen appears to be complete and the only content available. We call this the illusion of completeness. The illusion of completeness was a term coined by one of our energy principles, Bruce Tanzini, back in 1998 and over 20 years later. It’s a bit sad that we still see this issue occurring. What causes the illusion? The biggest culprit I see is a large hydrographic or video that consumes the entire height of the browser window, which pushes the relevant content far down the page below the fold. This design is especially misleading.

Would it includes a prominent call to action like a get started button users land on the page, see this huge image with a single button to sign up and believe they can’t get any information without clicking that button. Some responsive sites actually adjust these large images to always match the height of the browser. But this really just maximizes the likelihood that users on all devices will think that the image and any overlaid text and calls to action is all there is to see. Other design elements that can create this illusion of completeness are distinct horizontal lines, large gaps of white space between content elements or any other interruptions in the content flow.

These visual pauses create what is commonly referred to as a false floor and can trick users into thinking it’s the end of that page. Pages should be designed to avoid these types of content breaks and instead communicate continuation to get users to engage further and scroll.

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