One of the most commonly overlooked elements of a site or app is their pagination controls. In many cases, they are treated by designers and developers as an afterthought. Actually pagination is pretty easy to get right, but still there aren’t so many sites and apps that has a decent pagination.
Before going into analyzing good pagination, I want to explain just what I consider to be pagination: pagination is the method of splitting up content into several pages and providing a set of links you usually see at the bottom or top of a page that allows you to go to the next or previous page, or choose a page number you want manually. Google Search results are the obvious example, but it’s good to realize that pagination is also found on blogs (Previous/Next post links) and significant number of eCommerce sites.
And one last thing, the importance of pagination is very subjective — it depends on the content and context. For Google search results, pagination is pretty important thing because Google wants to give you exactly what you search for in the first 10 results.
Rules For Good Pagination
Making good pagination isn’t a difficult task. In order to complete this task you should remember and follow these guidelines.
1. Provide Reasonable Page Length
Don’t make your pages too short. A site or app page isn’t like a printed book page. The size of a printed page is limited by a physical size of a paper, but a site’s page has infinite height and can hold as much content as we want.
Safe option for search results is to display 25 to 75 items per page. However, this number is very approximate. The real number will depend on your site’s context and industry. For lists with more spec-driven products (consumer electronics, hardware, automobile parts and supplies), you should use the lower range (e.g. Best Buy uses 15 the most relevant items per page). In contrast, for visual-comparable products (like apparel) users can deal with a higher number of items (e.g. eBay uses over 300 items per single page).
2. Provide Large Clickable Elements
Many sites and apps underestimate how important the size of pagination click targets are. Large clickable targets is a solid rule for any kind of navigational link, whether it’s a menu elements or a pagination elements, but in the context of pagination elements this may be even more pertinent. It’s simply essential to make the targets big enough so users will be able to spot and hit them faster and easier. To provide good user experience on mobile devices you should design elements that measure at least 44 points x 44 points so they can be accurately tapped with a finger.
3. Identify Current Page
“Where am I?” is one of the fundamental questions users need to answer to successfully navigate. Users rely on visual cues from navigation elements to answer this critical question. That’s why you should identify the current page clearly with a proper styling. Your users need to know where they are right now. The current page should be significantly different in style from the other pages, so that users can easily keep track of where they are. And don’t rely on color alone, ensure that the status is understandable when viewed without color!
4. Limit Number of Pages and Space Out Elements
The page links should contain a maximum set of 10 page links. If fewer pages of results exist, only show page links for the available pages.
You should also make sure that there is enough space between each page link so that a user can’t accidentally click on the wrong page number.
5. Provide Previous and Next Links
In most cases, Previous and Next links are very useful for users. But, in order to create a decent pagination control, you should clearly separate them from the page numbers and give them sufficient distance or unique styling so that they can't be mistaken as a page; this is particularly pertinent if you use arrows instead of text for Previous and Next.
6. Don’t Use First and Last Links
Some paginations have first and last links that allow users to skip to the first or last page. Sometimes the first and last links are displayed using double arrowheads, which users can mistakenly press thinking that they’re the single arrowheads’s next and previous navigation buttons.
Labeling the links “first” and “last” also causes clicking errors because of its proximity to the “next” and “previous” link.
In most cases, the first and last links aren’t necessary because users prefer to view content in chronological order. There’s no reason for them to start from the last page unless they’re trying to find content from the past that they’ve already seen before.
However, there is practical value in providing the option to go back to the first page. The first page often has the most relevant and recent content. After paginating the user might want to go back to the first page without having to click the “previous” link over and over. You should display the first page link as the number one, such as “1”.
7. Adjust Pagination for Mobile Devices
It’s known fact that mobile devices have a limited screen estate. And we must use it efficiently. While for a desktop we able to provide a list of pages, for mobile devices we should provide only essential elements — current page number and basic navigation options (First page, Previous page and Next page).
8. Provide Paginating with Keyboard Arrows and Tabs (Desktop-only)
Give users the freedom to paginate using keyboard only. A simple press of the right arrow key takes them to the next page while the left arrow takes them back a page. However, users should be notified about this feature or they won’t know it’s available. A simple message like “Use keyboard ← left and right → arrow keys to navigate through the pages” below the paginator would be enough.
It’s also good to allow user to navigate between links using a Tab key, and when an individual link is in focus, hitting the Enter key should resulted in moving to the linked page.
Use Page Numbers or Next/Previous combination?
If your pagination has only a few pages in the low two digits, showing the pages in your pagination can encourage users to browse to the end.
However, if your pagination has a lot of pages in the high two digits or above, it’s not helpful for users to see how many total pages there are simply because they won’t be able to get through them all.
There is one exception to this rule. When designing a pagination for eCommerce sites or apps, you need to show the page numbers in your pagination so that users can refer back to a specific page when they’re considering to buy a specific products.
Takeaway: In general, you should display page numbers when the amount of pages are small, but go with a simple previous and next buttons when it’s big.
Good pagination improve readability and reduce complexity. Hopefully you’ve received some clues as to what makes good pagination and this will help you to establish perfect user experience.