The term 'parallax' refers to the apparent movement of objects when viewed from different positions. The technique was originally used in 2D video games where background images moved slower than foreground images, creating an illusion of depth. Who would have thought something popularized in 1982 arcade game Moon Patrol (opens in new tab) would become a major trend for web design 30 years later!
Parallax websites have come a long way since the simple two-layered site. With HTML5, CSS3 and modern browsers, there are many parallax sites that use multiplane animation, introduce new elements and create motion beyond the y-axis using scrolling. If you're unfamiliar check out these eye-popping examples of parallax scrolling websites (opens in new tab).
Creating one of these visually interactive masterpieces can be overwhelming, so here are 10 tips that will help you build your parallax scrolling websites in the right way.
01. Make it mobile friendly
It is no surprise that with the increase of internet usage via mobile devices, that design concepts such mobile first (opens in new tab) and responsive web design (opens in new tab) have become highly popular.
Currently, the majority of parallax scrolling websites are not mobile device friendly - including the big names like the Peugeot graphic novel (opens in new tab)pictured above. But given the trend towards mobile web use, that approach is increasingly going to be untenable.
02. Don't use it for the sake of it
Parallax scrolling is very cool technology, but try not to use it for the sake of it. Green Splash Design (opens in new tab)'s site, shown above, is well designed and serves its purpose perfectly, but its use of parallax scrolling does not add much to the user experience.
03. Make it fun
Audiences like to be entertained and parallax scrolling is often used to give users some fun. The Kystalrae (opens in new tab) Fall Collection - where the outfit on the given model changes as the user scrolls down - is a great example of an entertaining use of the technique.
04. Make it tell a story
Parallax scrolling can be used to take your visitors on a journey through a timeline or story. Digital agency inTacto (opens in new tab)'s site is a great example of parallax scrolling used to narrate the history of a company in a fun and involving manner.
05. Make it engaging
The Activate Drinks (opens in new tab) website engages its audience with clever use of animations and parallax scrolling. Keeping the user on your website has always been a challenge for designers. But parallax scrolling can enhance the pull of natural curiosity if the visual effect is fun, enticing and/or hypnotic.
06. Harness calls to action
We scroll and something happens. Capitalizing on the instant feedback when interacting with parallax scrolling websites is a great way to pull people into your site and entice them towards your calls to action.
For example, the Tinke (opens in new tab) fitness gadget website lures visitors towards its 'next button' call with images of the gadget interacting with the parallax scrolling. The website also perfectly guides the visitor to the 'Shop Now' call to action at the bottom of the page.
07. Add layering and depth
Madwell (opens in new tab)'s own site won an awwwards (opens in new tab) site of the day for good reason, as its website demonstrates perfect use of layers and depth for a parallax scrolling site. Notice the fast moving blurred foreground imagery compared to the slow moving clear background images.
As previously noted, the art of parallax is about creating an illusion of depth. Remember to experiment and not to give up!
08. Don't overdo it
Muffi (opens in new tab) has bombarded its website with all sorts of fanciness, and it's definitely an impressive display of technical prowess and beautiful imagery. However, personally I believe they've gone a little too far with the use of parallax scrolling. When it becomes difficult to find the company logo and understand what exactly the website is about, you should probably question the possible overuse of technology.
09. Remember IE
It's quite rightly common practice for web developers to do cross-browser testing. And it's particularly important with parallax scrolling websites, as they are likely to employ HTML5 and CSS3. HTML5 Boilerplate (opens in new tab) cam help care of most cross-browser normalizing contain fixes for Internet Explorer.
10. Pre-loading assets
A large amount of parallax scrolling websites involve heavy use of imagery. Often the use of other multimedia assets can be the reason for large downloads on parallax scrolling sites as well. The Soulreaper (opens in new tab) comic is a prime example of this, and also a great example of pre-loading images and assets.
Words: Josh Chan (opens in new tab)
Josh Chan is a digital specialist for Chromatix (opens in new tab), a web design and online marketing agency in Melbourne, Australia. Web design and web innovation are his passions, along with some breakdancing in his spare time.
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Have you seen a great example of parallax scrolling? Let us know about it in the comments!