Remember the old days of the web? Back when everyone looked at websites on the same-sized monitor? Back when the fold was really important? Back then, sidebars were a wonderful way to fill-up space and provide more info. They maximized above-the-fold space and helped you avoid spanning the entire computer screen with one line of super-wide text.
On my latest round of website updates, one of the changes I made was to move testimonials from the sidebar to the fabulous footer, negating the need for a sidebar. So today, mine got chopped. Adios.
Why? For most websites, sidebars aren’t necessary anymore because:
- Screens can be any size. We can’t tell what size screen viewers will use. On smaller screens—there’s just no room for a sidebar.
- Layouts start small. There’s been a major shift in thinking about layouts. Many designers start with mobile first—What will it look like on a small screen?—and build from there.
- Content is king. We released the need to fill the entire screen. The main content area can still have good readability by simply being in the center with space on either side. We don’t need to fill it all up! Since content is king, the main message can be the focus. Plus, white space is our friend.
- Clutter is nobody’s preference. I don’t think a client has ever told me, “That’s not cluttered enough!” Clean and simple is a good design standard.
- Footers are our friend. I’m a big fan of adding supplementary content to the footer. It’s like icing on the cake. Once someone has engaged with your content and the main purpose of the page, extra content like call-to-action, testimonials, social media links, twitter feeds, etc. can help promote buy-in and reinforce your message.
Does this mean sidebars are never useful? I’ll never say never. Secondary information can work in a sidebar. In a book layout, for example, you have sporadic sidebars that directly enhance the content. That doesn’t mean you have a sidebar running down the whole entire book. That would get annoying, right? So if it’s directly related to the content, or aids in navigation, I think a sidebar (or these days, a column) can still have a place.
What do you think? Are sidebars history?