BY LAUREN HANNA
Parallax scrolling is a trend that has been sweeping the web community for the last few years. Parallax is defined as an effect that changes the position or direction of an object so that it appears differently when viewed from different angles and positions. I think the most interesting aspect that parallax scrolling is that it has the ability to take advantage of depth perception. Many parallax scrolling websites have foregrounds and backgrounds making aspects of the website look like they are floating. For example, the confetti on Hot Dot is in the foreground while the man is in the background. By using depth perception web designers are able to create something much is more visually appealing and something that no one has ever seen on the web before. Not surprisingly, this compelling technique has become a widely used tool and strategy in the web-based community for sites ranging from sales campaigns to journalism.
For example, parallax scrolling became especially popular after The New York Times used the technique in their 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning interactive showpiece, Snow Fall, by John Branch. Snow Fall told the story of skiers trapped in an avalanche and used the 3D effect to make reading the more interactive, engaging, and interesting. To read Snowfall, you scroll past text while video simultaneously comes to life, offering an intensity to the story and showing where and how things were happening. Most interesting about Snowfall, in my opinion, is its use of mapping technology combined with the 3D parallax effect. Snow Fall shows the routes each skier took as they descended down the mountain before the avalanche. As you scroll through the story the map on the right hand side follows the skiers’ path and as you read about each individual skier, their own path (in red or yellow) shows up on the map in real time.
When the story was released on the Web on December 20, 2012 and then published in print on December 23, 2012, it was clear that The New York Times created a whole new way of web-based storytelling that changed the platform for journalism forever. Snowfall received high praise and became the most talked-about interactive news story of 2012-2013. Rebecca Greenfield, a writer for The Atlantic Wire, praised the interactive site for its “incredible use of video, photo, and graphics in a way that makes media feel natural and useful instead of just tacked on.” The New York Times also got some criticism. The project cost the company millions, and took 16 highly-paid professionals 6 months to complete. Critics questioned whether all this manpower and cost really worth it; moreover, some people argued that the story itself did not warrant such extravagant coding and design.
Despite the incredibly intense coding necessary behind parallax scrolling, it remains popular mainly because it is so visually engaging and can complement both interactive narratives and general information sites. Of course it isn’t appealing to all Internet users; parallax sites currently take longer to load than traditional websites and also often cannot be viewed on mobile devices.
Regardless, Snow Fall has inspired many parallax scrolling copycats and the trend doesn’t appear to be fading fast. One of my favorite examples is the Life of Pi movie website, the most intriguing website I have ever visited—I honestly think I could scroll through it for hours. I love the way information slides by and teases through extra windows and a series of interlacing interactive maps, before-and-after special effects, and movie highlights to illustrate how this movie was made. Life of Pie is organized vertically in a clean-cut, perfectly put together, parallax interface. Every time I scroll through it I find something new. In fact, this website is such a powerful example of parallax scrolling because it uses vertical scrolling and horizontal scrolling simultaneously.
Now that we’ve examined the best of the best, where do we go now? I think that the future of parallax scrolling is strong because it is not completely overused yet. Most people are not familiar with parallax scrolling and until it is everywhere (amazon, e-bay, google, and maybe even Facebook or Twitter) it will be able to still be a good technique for web developers to use. Many of the websites I looked at, including ISL Review and Numero 10, balance good communication with eye catching visuals. Parallax scrolling is not out of style yet, but it will be eventually if it continues to grow and expand across the web. Although I don’t know what will be the next big thing after parallax scrolling, I can imagine it will only be bigger, better, and more interactive and engaging for web users everywhere.