Why Paying Attention To The Fold Is Stupid

We’ve all heard the question before. “Where is the fold?” If you haven’t been asked this question before, consider yourself lucky. Wikipedia says…

“Above the fold” is a graphic design concept that refers to the location of an important news story or a visually appealing photograph on the upper half of the front page of a newspaper. Most papers are delivered and displayed to customers folded up, meaning that only the top half of the front page is visible. Thus, an item that is “above the fold” may be one that the editors feel will entice people to buy the paper. Alternatively, it reflects a decision, on the part of the editors, that the article is one of the day’s most important. By extension, the space above the fold is also preferred by advertisers, since it is the most prominent and visible even when the newspaper is on stands.

The term can be used more generally to refer to anything that is prominently displayed or of highest priority.

This term has been extended and used in web development to refer the portions of a webpage that can be visible without scrolling. However, some have suggested that this term is inaccurate as screen sizes vary greatly between users, especially in an era where websites are viewed with mobile devices as much as home computers.

The problem is that the people asking this question haven’t been properly educated as to where the fold actually came from and how we can use it or if we should even care.

Resources For Educating Fold-Mongers

To start off here are links to some valuable insight from industry experts both recent and spanning back several years.

1. Blasting the Myth of the Fold
2. The myth of the page fold: evidence from user testing
3. Utilizing the Cut-off Look to Encourage Users To Scroll

These three examples alone should be enough to convince even the most staunch fold evangelists. Hell, even this report from 1994 by usability expert Jakob Nielsen says,

In more recent studies, we have seen that most users scroll when they visit a long home page or a long navigation screen. This change in behavior is probably due to users getting more experience with scrolling Web pages.

When We Should Pay Attention To The Fold

Now that we have truly established that paying attention to the fold is stupid, I will put on my stoopid hat and give you a couple reasons where we SHOULD pay attention. These are more common sense examples and really will help the usability and user experience.

1. Short Pages

If you have a limited amount of content that CAN all fit on one screen (above the fold) it’s best to try. There’s no reason to force the user to scroll a couple hundred pixels.

2. Don’t Give A Reason To Second Guess

Check your designs at different resolutions. If you have any hard horizontal breaks across the page, make sure they’re not right at the fold. Easy to fix by vertically spacing your content. We want to avoid guessing if this is the bottom of the page or not. Guide them down the page by trying to avoid these fold breaks.
These two examples may seem contradictory to the posts title, however they’re not meant to be strict usability guidelines and are more design common sense.

Summary

Whew! Glad you made it. This is below the fold and I was a little worried.

There are mountains of data and information slaying the fold myth. Some are backed by years and years of expertise and research and some are more comical and intended to prove a point. It is almost as absurd as not turning the page of a book if it ends with a period.

It is our responsibility to educate those who aren’t familiar with the findings and continue to study user behaviors to educate ourselves.

Jeff is a Sr. Art Director at HSN.com. When he isn’t being an evangelist of User Experience, UI Design and Best Usability Practices you can find him floating around the Twittersphere or perpetually tweaking his WordPress Blog.
Follow on Twitter: @fuelinterface | @inetwebguy

 

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