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The concept of sidebars is as old as that of websites itself; they have been on websites since the mid-90s. The early websites were usable but primitive, but in the last two decades, web design has advanced by leaps and bounds. Even so, sidebars are still rather common on a number of websites, ranging from e-commerce shops to blogs. As responsive design grows, however, it is worth pondering about the relevance of sidebars in modern web design.
Are Sidebars a Good Idea?
The question is being raised over and over these days, as a growing number of designers wants to discard the sidebar altogether, claiming it serves no utility. More and more mobile users mean that the sidebar content drops below the actual webpage and goes unseen. With big screen resolutions getting wider too, there is a need for a width limit to be set as well. The key to understanding sidebar utility is to first see what purpose the page it is being deployed on serves. On an email site like Gmail or Outlook, it makes a lot of sense to have a sidebar with quicklinks for you to jump from one section or mailbox to another. That said a ton of simple websites like business sites and portfolio pages absolutely do not need sidebars.
It makes a lot of sense for businesses to follow a single column, single stream layout with chunks of content and blocks of graphics placed where appropriate. When it comes to blogs, the utility depends on style, topic, and content type. If advertising is your goal, or you want to promote related products or increase signups to email campaigns you should definitely keep a sidebar. But small-scale blogs with minimal ads really don’t need this. These, coupled with the rise of Adblock and “Banner Blindness” among consumers only mean that the sidebar is taking up valuable space.
Minimalism Is Key
Simpler websites always have a cleaner, smoother UX, which means they are comfortable to read and provide a smooth browsing and using experience. Removing an excess sidebar is easily the best way to simplify a complex layout. Blogs, in general, are much easier to read without a sidebar because the text content gets more space. Professionals, photographers, artists, writers and designers all profit from this strategy.
However, minimalism isn’t for everyone, and you’d be surprised at some instances where a bunch of columns and extravagant design is what is needed. E-commerce is especially divisive here. While minimalism makes it more intuitive, there are way too many features to shove into a single column flow. Here, sidebars are very useful, for filters as an example, but it is important that they are designed intuitively, get hidden when not needed, and be minimal.
Responsive Design and Mobile Devices
It has long been known that responsive, fast websites are the future of the internet. In 2016, internet use from mobile devices surpassed desktops and this trend is there to stay. Responsive design means that your website is resized or the layout is changed to best suit the size of the screen of any device accessing the page. On mobiles and tablets, responsive design tends to hide the sidebar because of lack of space. You could choose to hide it under a drop-down button or a slider, move it by dropping it beneath the main content or forget it altogether. The page will definitely load quicker without the sidebar too. That said it may look a little bland on the desktop. The key is judicious use. Some sites use 3-4 content columns but look fantastic because they are designed well and have kept mobile use in mind too. If all this is too much for you, you should consider hiring a top firm like LasVegasWebDesignCo to design your website.
It is entirely understandable if you don’t want to remove a sidebar you think is necessary just for the sake of mobile users. The key is in striking a balance. If the website needs a sidebar, that is, if the sidebar adds a ton of functionality to the website, you should keep it on the desktop site and hide on mobile. You must analyze and understand the value of a sidebar in your situation.
Pros and Cons
There are tons of sites which use sidebars very tastefully on the desktop version, like having two sidebars with useful widgets and links and the content sandwiched in between. With a wide enough screen, this looks quite fantastic, again, provided the sidebars serve some purpose. Design is always malleable so you should not have a hard and fast opinion. Instead, consider the utility carefully and then design or deploy accordingly. It is, however, true that a mobile-dominated world could mean the sidebar is replaced by something more usable in the near future.