Paginate THIS

Posted in Articles, Design, User Interface, Web

Here’s a lovely pagination control I looked at on PSDTUTS today. Actually, first I used it; when it took me to a page I was not expecting, I hit the Back button and looked at it.

The existing pagination controls on PSDTUTS.

It’s a testament to both my arrogance and my compulsiveness that I found five things I could “fix” about this control before I went back to whatever I was doing.

Diagnosing it

Now, I’m going to treat these as though they’re improvements, but you may think some of these suggestions are bad — or, at best, merit‐neutral. I never said I was good at this.

But here’s where I would start.

The stuff I would change.

  1. This is what the “current page” style looks like; it’s also the hover state for each of these buttons. To me this isn’t enough contrast between the current page and the rest. The page you’re on shouldn’t look like a button.
  2. The normal state of this button is brighter than the hover state. The hover state uses a slightly darker background and gray text instead of red. I’d reverse this — save the red text for the hover state.
  3. This is probably the button you want. It’s the button I wanted. It’s the “next page” button, but it doesn’t say “next” on it; it just has two faint chevrons that look like tiny arrows, even though they’re not. (They’re angle quotation marks; they’re used in some languages instead of the quotation marks we use in English.) This is the most important button in the group, but it’s got the weakest presence.
  4. The ellipsis needs more room to breathe here. Also, it makes sense to put the ellipsis between the number buttons and the “last” button, but it doesn’t make sense to put “next” on one side and “last” on the other. This suggests that something is being left out between those two, but what’s been omitted is everything from six to the end.
  5. The most worthless button is the largest and invites mis‐clicking. “Last” is far less useful than “next,” so why is it the largest, and why is it placed on the end?

Wait! Cancel the ordered list. I’ve got to make this into a section.

Aside: I hate “last” and wish it would go away

In this example, we’re on page 1 of the list. Knowing nothing about the user, which page is she likely to choose next?

Obviously 2 is most likely. I’d say 3 is next most likely, though far behind 2, and 4 would follow in the same suit.

But where does “last” fit into all this? In a chronological listing like this one, “last” would take us to the earliest entries in time — it’d reverse the sorting, in a way, letting you paginate backward while traveling forward in time.

In blogs and forums, for which freshness is paramount, there’s little use for wanting to see the oldest items. Or consider a list of YouTube videos sorted by popularity, or WordPress plugins sorted by rating. What self‐hating soul would opt to see those items judged the worst of the worst?

I might not be a representative sample, but I have clicked on a “last” button by accident at least ten times more often than I have clicked on a “last” button on purpose.

Fixing it

Despite the rage‐fest, I’m going to let “last” stay on screen — but only if it accepts a massive cut in size and stature.

But I’m going to start from the outside in. “Next” and “previous” will get top billing; the current page number will play a supporting role; and all other numbers will play bit parts.

One iteration later, here’s what I’ve got:

Examples of the pagination control with some minor changes.

What’s new?

  1. I swapped the background images for the normal and hover states — as well as the text colors. Now buttons “light up” and numbers turn red when you hover over them, inviting a click.
  2. I made the current page stand out from the rest with a red outline; plus, removing the textured background at the same time makes the button look flat and un‐clickable, as it should be.
  3. The “first” and “last” buttons were demoted, typographically speaking, and moved closer to the numeral range where they belong.
  4. Finally, “previous” and “next” are the attention‐grabbers. They’re always red, not just in the hover state, and they’ve got associated symbols: the dedicated left‐arrow and right‐arrow characters (numeric entities ← and →) are both beefier than the angle‐quotes and more semantically meaningful.

Here’s the HTML version so you can play with the hover states. The result probably needs some visual tweaking to look as polished as the original, but I’m quite satisfied with the usability gain.

The bullet points

Fine, fine, I’ll give you the Cliffs Notes version. Here’s how to paginate:

  1. “Next” and “previous” are the two most important buttons. Treat them that way. Make them easy to find and easy to click.
  2. Individual numbers must have a clickable area that is larger than the numeral itself. Give the links display: block and add some padding. And style the :hover
    state so that the user can tell when he’s over the button. (Hell, you can style the :active state for extra credit.)
  3. Make the numerals large enough that they can be read easily. Get rid of the default underline for numeral links; it does more harm than good with such a small piece of text.
  4. Make sure the user knows what page he’s on and how many pages there are total.
  5. Angle quotes (») are abused. Don’t treat them like arrows. We have arrows (←) for that.

Pedant class dismissed.


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  2. This is great analysis. I will keep it in mind whenever I need to incorporate a pagination control.

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