Opening Pandora's box

Pandora's box

Dear faithful reader...

My momma always said, "Don't ask a question unless you want to hear the answer." Well, I didn't listen to a lot of things my momma said.

One of the faithful readers of williamsonpsp.com, aka Chez Paul, has written with an observation about the Chronicles monthly index page:

When I click on the Chronicles link, so I can catch up on the latest, I'm always a bit confused and today I think I figured it out... The top link on the left is to go back a month and the top link on the right is to go forward a month. However, the little pictures for each chronicle entry go the reverse - Nov 1 on the right and Nov 30 on the left. I want to look on the right of the page to find the latest entry, but it's on the left instead.

Believe it or not, there was a rationale behind the way the monthly index pages are laid out. The idea was to make the latest the most readily accessible by taking advantage of the fact that, in English, one reads from left to right and top to bottom. By putting the most recent item always in the top left corner of the page, it would be where the eye naturally falls (albeit naturally by training), and no one would ever have to scroll to find the latest entry.

Nevertheless, I do recognize the dissonance this may cause, and I would certainly not like to cause my faithful readers any cognitive disturbance, however minor.

So. I've devised two alternative methods of building those index pages that may be more comfortable for my faithful readers.

Current design
current method
See animation
Method
• Put a new item at top of first column
• When the column is "full" (4 items), insert a new column on the left
Pros
• Never have to scroll to see the most recent entry
Cons
• Reported to cause confusion for some users
Alternative 1
alternative method 1
See animation
Method
• Put a new item at the bottom of the first column
• When the column is "full" (4 items), insert a new column on the right
Pros
• Follows convention for reading English in columns: top-to-bottom within column, next column to the right
Cons
• May require scrolling for users with displays less than 1024x768 pixels or who use larger fonts
Alternative 2
alternative method 2
See animation
Method
• Put a new item at the end of the first row
• When the row is "full" (4 columns), insert a new row below
Pros
• Follows convention for reading tabular material: left to right within row, next row below
Cons
• May require scrolling for users with displays less than 1024x768 pixels or who use larger fonts

From an authoring point of view, there's no significant difference in effort required or complexity of the underlying HTML. Regardless of method, scrolling is usually necessary anyway whenever the number of items expands beyond sixteen (4x4).

Your turn

What do you think? Maybe you're one of those people who never use the monthly index pages so it doesn't matter to you. Or, maybe you use them, but they confuse you, too, but you were just too polite to say anything (unlike some people).

If you use the monthly index pages, which design would you — faithful reader — prefer?

Drop me a line and share your thoughts.