Stop the Above The Fold Web Design Insanity - People Scroll Today!!!!!

Stop the Above The Fold Web Design Insanity - People Scroll Today!!!!!

The old mantra that things on web pages had to be above the fold is an antiquated idea from the very early days of the web. When people didn’t know what the internet was or how to use a browser. Back then, yes, the “above the fold” idea mattered. But that was back in 1999 - today people know what a browser is and how to use it.

This old newspaper term was adopted and refuses to die.

Above the fold originates from the newspaper industry where positioning a story or graphic “above the fold” on the paper could increase readership. Since newspapers are displayed and sold flat - if the headline or photo was compelling it could increase sales. And of course, readers are more likely to read and be interested in things placed on the top half of the front page. So “above the fold” was born.

When the web was young, and newcomers didn’t understand how a browser worked, monitors were small, and the world wide web was not ubiquitous - this idea was co-opted and applied to web design. Since screens were small, things seen within the boundary of the home page screen were “deemed” above the fold. So back in 1999, something visible within the 800 x 600 pixel dimensions of the home page was more likely to be seen, read, and clicked on. Similar to a “folded newspaper” if it appeared above the fold or in digital terms, within the visible area of the monitor, then it was golden. AOL also made this concept popular since its standard interface was constrained to 800x600 everything was “chopped up” to be contained and displayed within this area - to keep it visible. The result, articles spanned multiple pages, you clicked to the next page instead of scrolling to see more.  But that was then…

Repeat after me, above the fold doesn’t matter any more.

Now breath a little bit. Relax. It’s ok. You’re not going to die. Your head isn’t going to explode. And visitors to your website aren’t going run screaming from their computers because they have to scroll. In fact, with the explosion of the big monitors and the mobile web with its small screens on smart phones, scrolling is almost a requirement in some instances. The fold has vanished. It has ceased to be. It is a dead issue.

User testing, eye tracking, and click data dispels the fold myth

Many studies of been conducted to test the validity of the “above the fold” hypothesis and they’ve all shown that today’s users do indeed scroll. The above the fold myth has been debunked. CX Partners, a user-centric design firm from the United Kingdom, does a lot of eye tracking research for their clients. And they’ve consistently found that the “fold” is no longer relevant. You can read about their “above the fold user testing” on their blog. But to paraphrase their results - often less content above the fold will encourage exploration beneath. And if the design tantalizes that more exists below - scrolling is almost guaranteed. In essence, if something bridges the fold people with scroll down to see more. Further, people now recognize that scroll bars on a browser indicate more content lies below and know that the scroll bar can also visually indicate the page length.

Evaluation of click data also supports the notion that people do scroll. Milissa Tarquini writes for boxesandarrows.com about her experiences as an interface designer at AOL since 1995. Her article, “Blasting the Myth of the Fold” is a very good read and provides lots of anecdotal and real-world evidence to support the concept “the fold doesn’t matter” - but one of the interesting things she mentions is the click data for TMZ. She notes that the links at the bottom of TMZ’s super long pages are often the most clicked on - this indicates a willingness of the user to scroll long pages - if the content is compelling.

Things above the fold should be important…

If you’ve scrolled down this far, you’ve just read the above headline where I acknowledge that content above the fold should be important. But it’s a no brainer to proclaim interesting and important things should be placed at the top of the page. Really “above the fold” was an argument against scrolling and against longer content on pages. The mantra of “above the fold” was used to constrain design to an arbitrary and mostly imaginary screen dimension. But as research has demonstrated compelling content and visual cues that more content exists below have obliterated the old notion of “above the fold” in web design. Unfortunately the out dated idea simply refuses to die.

But where is the fold?

Again, back in the 90’s when most computer monitors were typically 15 inches, screen real estate was at a premium. But more so, it was fairly standard. Most people viewed a web page full screen and with “browser clutter” designers knew they had less than the 800x600 pixel dimensions to work with and designed for 640 x 480. But today, high resolution monitors are fairly standard and their pixel dimensions and aspect ratios vary wildly. Desktop monitors can span 20” to 30” or larger; you can connect your computer to huge LCD or Plasma televisions; and laptops come in all sizes and shapes with lots of different screen resolutions too. And need I mention smart phones and tablets? So the answer to “where is the fold” isn’t easy to answer today. The “fold” was usually defined as the bottom of the browser window…but if you open your browser on a 24” monitor it’s likely most web pages will fully display within that height - so there really isn’t any fold. Or if you open the same page on a smart phone…it’ll either resize the content to fit or you’ll need to scroll.

So why cling to the old 800 x 600 dimension? By adhering to the “above the fold” dimensions your content is squeezed to the top of the browser. You’re doing a disservice to your web design and web visitor. To fit, your content was most likely edited and unnecessarily truncated to squeeze it into an arbitrary area. And your larger monitor using visitors are left looking at a lot of unused screen real estate and a forced user experience. All because you (or likely the client) believed users don’t scroll.

But when monitors are huge or very tiny (such as in the mobile world) it’s impossible to ascribe a fixed dimension to the “fold” on a web page. The idea works for newspapers because they are a consistent size and perhaps in the early years of the internet it was some what true - but today - there is no fold on a web page. Users do scroll. And in fact, most would likely prefer to scroll and continue reading or viewing your content over being forced to view shortened content spread across multiple pages. So forget the fold - it doesn’t exist. Design a compelling page layout and if it runs long…it’s OK…people will scroll - provided what you put lower on the page is worth scrolling for.

Reference and Related Reading: 

Jul 26, 2011
By: William Levins


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There are 21 comments for this entry. Leave a comment below »


More comments

@chip

Agreed, most important information should be at or towards the top. Our assertion was simply that where that top ends is difficult to determine today. People will scroll if they see there's something lower... or are guided to do so in some manner.

Bill
Apr 19, 2016


For maximum success (traffic/contact/hits/etc.), I still think it's best to put the most important information near the top of the page. Make people look at a huge image or graphic on today's hi-res monitors and phones, and then having to scroll down to see anything of importance seems foolish. I know stuff doesn't always fit, but it's worth a try. It makes a site EFFICIENT at conveying information.
MINIMUM user activity to find the important stuff!

This is almost as stupid as the vertical videos taken by cellphones. It is UGLY! The user must be awfully lazy if they can't turn their phone to horizonal while "filming". Reality has a wide aspect ratio, and these videos are like looking through an almost closed door or crack in a fence.

chip
Apr 18, 2016


It is grossly misleading to say "People scroll today" - as it misses one basic question.
DO PEOPLE WANT TO SCROLL?

This user does not.
I've just come from a Bank's Customer Forum, where, after a re-design many of the hundreds of criticisms is that the new design requires scrolling - even to find the "Next" button !

Customers want to see ALL of their accounts/transactions/payees in one view - as well as ALL of the banking functions (e.g. transfer, payees, payment etc) being visible without scrolling.
Obviously there may eventually be a limit on transactions per page - but users prefer to click "next page" rather than scroll.
Why this aversion to scrolling?
Perhaps because once scrolled down there are few, maybe no reference points - a bit like exiting a lift without knowing at which floor.

So, in conclusion, itis easy to prove people actually scroll - when they are forced to -but don't assume they want scroll.

Given this fad for scrolling has been spreading, [along with minimalist ambiguous navigation and hard to read grey fonts (like on this site)], this user has started emailing sites that have not yet succumbed to re-design to compliment them and point out the benefits of their "classic" style.

In short, some (many?) users value:
Maximum info in one view (minimal scrolling)
Visual clues for navigation
Colour and depth.

Without these features, only vitally important sites are likely to be returned to.

Julian
Feb 05, 2015


However, with so much web design manipulation taking place Google and the other search engines decided to measure other off-siteor
off the page factors in order tto increase the relevancy of visitor searches.

Outsourcing mainly helps the business to get a little more relaxed and assures them the revenue and
the profit without them having to put in much effort. Other tasks include HTML and connected coding, creating
and maintaining back links or say inbound links.

a2zcorporatenews.co.uk
Nov 14, 2014


This only proves that the concept of website designing has now changed. I agree with you that the fold doesn't exist its a lot better to design a compelling layout page.

Christine Bravo
Jul 01, 2014


@Sheila - Hear! Hear!

William Levins
May 16, 2014


@ Chris and any others who feel they have a high bounce rate solely because the fold still matters:

If your page is a hodge-podge of unrelated items, your potential users are passing you over because your page is a hodge-podge of unrelated items.

If I use Google to search for a site that sells furniture and your site comes up, I expect to see furniture for sale on your site. If I do not see furniture for sale, but I do see a giant flashing orange, green, and hot pink header with your company name and 'Buy Now!' set to blink, a picture of your dog, a testimonial about how wonderful your favorite lemonade tastes, your Facebook status, a blog on how to grow trees and unclog your toilet, and an 'As Seen On TV!' logo, I'm gone before your 'Check out our website via the internet on the world wide web' pop-up has a chance to show it's ugly Continue button off. Seriously, pick a topic and stick to it. Hodge-podge is bad practice, so stop scaring away the users. Don't blame your bounce rate on 'the fold'.

FYI, I'm posting this comment from page 2 of the comments section. Not only did I scroll, but I clicked the '2' link to view the second page.

Sheila
May 16, 2014


Great content, I will put a link to your page, way down the bottom of my site ; )

jimmi
May 12, 2014


Concept of website designed has changed. As you told in your article, above the fold funda has gone and now people like to see something good,something different and extraordinary. Not only google but now one has to think for other search engines also. So keeping in mind this thing one has design his website.

Web Design Concepts
Apr 14, 2014


I've been using the web since 1997 (remember Netscape communicator anyone?) and scrolling was normal back then, everyone I knew scrolled, I scrolled, everyone I watched using the web scrolled....

The term "fold" comes from the print world, and as we all know the web is not print, and print is not the the web. It makes me cringe when I see designers referring to it when they talk about web pages.

Load the same page on 10 different devices/screen sizes an the bottom of the viewable part of the page will be different.

There is no "fold" on the web, get over it...

Rob
Mar 31, 2014


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