When the computer came along, it presented designers with a bunch of challenges. Just figuring out how to move things around took decades of iteration and innovation (see: history of the mouse), but there was also the problem of scrolling. How to tell the average reader that there’s more stuff hiding down below? Books never had to worry about this sort of thing.
And so the scrollbar was born in 1981 – designed for the Xerox Star operating system. In hindsight, it wasn’t great. Putting aside the clunky, pixelated graphics, Xerox’s scrollbar was counterintuitive: click the ‘up’ arrow and the scrollbar moved down (and vice versa). Presumably in 1981, this sort of thing didn’t drive people insane.
You can try Xerox’s flagship scrollbar for yourself on Sébastien Matos’ website, the Evolution of the Scrollbar. This is exactly what it sounds like: an interactive journey through the history of scrollbars. You can road test the first Windows scrollbar (Windows 1.01, 1985) and Steve Job’s first attempt (Lisa, 1983), even the first example of sexy, real-time scrolling feedback (Windows 95, 1995).
Grayson Blackmon from The Verge has even gone through every scrollbar, one by one, and ranked them for UI excellence and visual fluency. The verdict? Windows 10 (2015) is still the scrollbar gold standard: discreet, user-friendly, able to “step back and disappear until you need it.”