Vestibular Issues in Parallax Design

Over the last year or so, a design trend in the web and mobile world has been transition animations, parallax effects, and the like. For many users, this can cause vestibular issues; the symptom is usually vertigo, or a feeling of motion sickness.

The issue was not well recognized until iOS 7 was released and overwhelmed users with an excessive amount of visual effects, especially parallax. Numerous articles were written about this issue, including iOS 7 and motion sickness by iMore. In a poll displayed on that article, about 28% of users reported having either mild or serious motion sickness with iOS7; this is not a formal study but still makes quite a statement. And at the time of writing, there are 100 comments on the article!

Pro tip! To reduce the parallax effect in iOS 7, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Reduce Motion.

Pros and Cons

study by Purdue University found that “although parallax scrolling enhanced certain aspects of the user experience, it did not necessarily improve the overall user experience”. Let’s take a look of pros and cons of parallax design.

Pros:

  1. May possibly increase user engagement.

Cons:

  1. Makes many users sick.
  2. Requires additional code which makes web pages more complex longer to load.
  3. Does not function smoothly across all browsers.
  4. Difficult to implement with responsive and mobile design.
  5. Can make it difficult or frustrating for the user to consume content due to excessive scrolling.

Recommendation

There are obviously many more negative points for using parallax design as there are positive. My recommendations are:

  • Use parallax effects (and animations) with much discretion and tolerance, if at all.
  • Ensure complete browser testing on desktop as well as mobile devices.

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