Website sidebars. Obsolete?

Sidebars were introduced to websites around the mid nineties. Soon they started gaining rapid popularity as a cool new feature, for both looks as well as functionality to become one of the features of web designing that is still relevant even after all these years of rapid development of new technology. A large number of websites make use of sidebars but there is also a growing trend to do away with this device. A sidebar is used to display menus or widgets on the website. But there is a debate going on among web designers on whether sidebars are still necessary or even relevant after the decades of technological advancements. While one side swears by this nifty device that gives the users all the necessary tabs and links together in one unit, the other school believes that the sidebar is an ancient tool, just like the primitive websites back in the nineties. It is time to decide, once and for all, whether the sidebar is a classic design tool that deserves to be a staple feature or whether it is indeed outdated and can be done away with to make way for newer tools and designs.
Sidebars have braved over two decades of technological development to stay strong as a regularly used feature on websites. It can be a highly functional device for your website, if used well. Even today quite a large number of web designers still swear by the functionality of this feature. But it is also quite a bit of inconvenience, especially when it comes to a mobile website. Here is a detailed study on the pros and cons of both to help you choose better for your next design.

Pros of sidebar

The sidebar is a nifty multipurpose device which was introduced in the nineties, in a bid to make websites a bit more user friendly and is still used by web designers even today. They can be found on blogs, business pages, school websites, e-commerce sites and so on. Here are the reasons why it has managed to continue being such a popular tool over the years.

Convenience of organization

It goes without saying that a sidebar is a great tool to display all the units of organisation like menus, options, links etc. In one single unit so that a visitor doesn’t have to stumble across the entire website to find relevant information or product. Any user can easily find all the options right there on the very page they are reading as well as on every single page they go to, owing to the constant presence of a sidebar. It is a very nifty tool, especially helpful for users who are technologically not advanced enough to handle complex websites yet. It can also be used as a tool to sort and filter, according to the user’s needs.

Promotion Tool

A well designed sidebar is a very useful tool in showcasing other projects, items or other works by the artist, author etc which can be of immense help in building up a brand awareness or promotion of one’s work. As one views a particular page, more such options will be subtly but effectively pushed towards the visitor. This will not only rouse interest, but might also do wonders in increasing sales or viewership, whatever be the aim of a website.

Increased sign up

A highly optimised sidebar can actually help you with increased subscription. and sign up rates. It can be used as an excellent tool for presenting your visitors with an email sign up or registration form. It is commonly seen that visitors do not voluntarily look for an option to subscribe or register unless it is given to them right on the page they are on. Hence, if you are looking to build a community by increasing membership, a sidebar is a great tool to rope your visitors in.

Presenting information

A sidebar is an excellent tool to provide additional information or summary or even bulletin points. If your website has a lot of information, the best way to capture your visitors’ attention and to prevent them from leaving, is to put the relevant information in short on the sidebar. It will also give your visitor a fair idea about the particular page he or she is on, and hence will also help improve your readership. It is also used to present important information like an author or an artist’s bio and other works, or a designer’s location and contact details etc. It does a great job in keeping all the necessary information in one concise place so that a viewer does not have to hunt around.

Cons of Sidebar

As technology keeps advancing, certain trends end up becoming obsolete. It seems that the sidebar is a trend that is being questioned and even done away with in modern web designing. Here are some of the factors that might have contributed to this trend.

Distraction

It cannot be denied that a multi-column approach, while promoting other links on the page, also end up distracting the visitor with additional links and information. This can lead to users clicking on all the links they find interesting, but ending up not reading them as too many tabs might make them lose interest and focus. Taking away the sidebar forces a visitor to focus exclusively on the information the page aims to impart.

Additional clutter

Gone are the days of cluttered, sparkly websites packed with maximum information and maximum effect in one page, leading to clutter. More and more web designers are choosing to do away with the sidebar as adds yet another thing to the screen, which could have been done away with. This frees up white space, giving a cleaner look to the website. Moreover, all the information that is usually contained in the sidebar is available on the website itself, therefore, it is entirely possible to do away with it.

Screen size adaption issues

With different kinds of devices being used to browse the internet, it is essential that your website caters to the needs of various mediums and runs smoothly on different devices like tablets, mobile phones etc besides laptops and desktops. A sidebar consumes quite a lot of space and hence, can be a huge issue when it comes to small screens. It would take up precious screen space, thereby cluttering it up as well as reducing the visibility of the main column, which, ideally should be the main focus of the page. Hence, creating a mobile website with a sidebar is a big turn off which will cost one visitors!

Pros of no sidebar

A number of website designers are gradually discarding the sidebar for a more minimalist style. Some of them hail it as an outdated technology. Here is what you need to know about creating your website without the sidebar.

Faster loading

Since a sidebar is yet another thing that needs to load, it slows down the page, even if by a fraction of a second. It can be a big setback for people with low speed data plans. Getting rid of the sidebar will make the page much lighter and, in turn, improve the loading speed of the page.

Minimalist Look

Minimalism is the latest trend in web design. A sidebar takes up a portion of the screen space. It adds to the volume of information on the screen, which can have a negative impact on the viewers. A clean minimalist space gives you a better chance to display your work without the added distractions.

Cons of not having a sidebar

Although the removal of the sidebar from your design makes your website a light and more dynamic space, it is to be noted that it does not come without its disadvantages.

Can affect user friendliness

Since it does not have the menus and widgets explicitly mentioned on the page, users might find it difficult to navigate the website. It will take them longer time and much more browsing to go find what they are looking for. This can be disastrous for e-commerce websites as frustrated users might simply abandon their shopping.

So? Sidebar or no sidebar?

Minimalism and sophistication are extremely important when it comes to designing a website. A sidebar can take up a lot of space, thereby increasing clutter and affecting the looks of the website. Hence, it is a good idea to get rid of the sidebar, if you are creating a website with uncompromisingly high standards when it comes to the looks. It is perfect for websites which aim to display, like portfolios, travel websites, food or photography websites, websites of designers, web designers, architects etc. It focuses complete attention on the content in the current page. The ample white space brings out the nuances of the work brilliantly. On the other hand, there are some websites which need a certain level of organisation and easy to find widgets, menus etc to facilitate visitor experience as well to provide a sneak peak into other works or items to rouse the interest and improve views. This is a particularly helpful tool for websites dealing with e-commerce, ordering food, blogs etc. Therefore, it is a good idea to judge the needs of your website before incorporating a sidebar. If your website needs the focus of space and minimalism, opt to leave out the sidebar, while on the other hand, it is crucial for displaying widgets. It is also important to keep the user experience in mind. A sidebar provides the users with all the necessary widgets in one place which makes the website user friendly. If your website is going to be viewed by people from a diverse age group with diverse levels of technological knowledge, it is a wise idea to have the sidebar. On the other hand, it also affects user experience by taking up space when visibility is important. Hence, the best way to do this is to ask yourself why you need a sidebar.

How to make a responsive site with sidebar

A sidebar is a very useful, if not essential, device in certain kinds of specific websites. But the issue of responsiveness can be a huge dampener as well. There are a always number of ways in which you can walk around the problem to integrate a functioning sidebar without compromising the visibility of the content. More and more people are moving to browsing via smart phones over the past few years and this is a trend which will not see a decline any time. Hence, it is important to create a website which runs seamlessly on a mobile device as well. It is a good idea to remove the sidebar when viewing on small screen. But if you need to create a responsive site with a sidebar, here are a few options you can exercise to ensure a flawless viewing experience. You can hide the sidebar to one side of the screen and the user will be able to view it by scrolling and dragging it out into the main screen. This is an excellent way because it not only does it focus complete attention on the content as the sidebar is hidden, it utilises the full functionality of the sidebar as well. This is as close to the desktop experience as possible on a mobile device. The other way is to move the sidebar to the bottom of the screen, at the end of the main content.

Conclusion

Sidebar can be a useful tool of web design, if utilised wisely. Maybe in a few years it will disappear but not today. It is still a popularly used tool which can be highly effective based on the requirements of the website. Therefore, whether to do away with the sidebar or not is practically an impossible decision to make right now. It is the best idea to keep the needs of your website, as well as the user friendliness in mind before choosing whether to have a sidebar or not. Weigh your pros and cons carefully and make an informed decision.

Hexadesigns is a web design company located in Kolkata, India. We take advantage of the latest trend and technologies to design, redesign and develop websites. This is our blog where we publish information for the general people and web developers for their knowledge enhancement.

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