Andrew J. Austin

Fixed Headers and Spinal Fatigue

I don’t go to the chiropractor nearly as often as I should. On my last visit, I received this image of my neck and a caution against my poor posture.

The gist of the warning is that the actual weight of your head exerts x amount of pressure on your spine by default. Misalignment of your head due to posture, slouching, frequently walking like Charlie Brown, or sitting at the computer all day can cause your head to exert significantly more pressure on your spine. Over time this leads to problems. Head down and your back frowns, but upright is alright. Right?

This principle makes sense physiologically, but it can also be applied to modern web patterns — specifically to counter the idea that no website is functional or cool without a fixed-on-scroll header. I see it everywhere these days. My browser windows are more often than not weighed down by a head that keeps following me when I want it to stay up where it belongs. This is particularly egregious for those browsing on 11" screens. Remember the Windows ribbon?

The justification most often put forth is that the site’s branding is persistent and the main navigation is never far away. But is this really necessary? Is website design moving towards such a point of singularity that the top-left-logo is the only way to maintain branding?1 Has scrolling become so onerous that we need the nav always with us? It has become obnoxious — spinal fatigue exists in websites, too.2

Be kind to your viewers and be kind to their browser windows. Understanding how to guide a user through a website with and without the main nav is a key component of web design.


  1. Actually, maybe so.
  2. I am not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water — some of this fixedness is quite elegant. I think Big Spaceship’s minimal approach to this is nice and this demo from CodyHouse is also apt.