Is there really no page fold?

scrollThis has been all over Twitter lately – if you haven’t already seen it:

People seem to be passing this around, along with comments along the lines of “amen!” and “send someone to this the next time they make a know-it-all-comment about putting something above the fold on your site design!” As someone who talks about designing around the fold a fair deal, I had kind of a squinty-eyed suspicious sort of reaction to these comments, but I also started thinking about it.

The fold (for those who may only be new initiates into the world of web design and to whom this is all a bit arcane) is the line below which your average web viewer will not be able to see the contents of a page without scrolling down. What the creator of the amusing site linked to above is apparently  getting at is that this concept is complete nonsense – scrolling should be thought of by designers as a natural part of every web user’s experience. The web scrolls, get used to it.

I think there’s a few important lessons to to take away here. First: it’s a dangerous folly for a designer to assume that they know how a user is going to view their site. Scroll about five years back, and nobody would have thought that so many users would be viewing the web on their mobile devices. Scroll five years ahead, and who knows how people will be looking at your site. Your fold is not necessarily their fold, so unless you have the budget to redesign your site every time the technology trends a little, design with flexibility and accessibility standards in mind now, and start learning to deal with the great truth of web design – you can never really control how people view your site.

However, point the second: if your business depends on your website, then you need to design for how people do view the web, not how they could. If you’ve ever looked at a heat map of user interaction on your site (we like to use clickdensity for this) then you’ve almost certainly seen how much more attention the top of your site gets, and how much less less people notice content they have to scroll to. And if you’ve taken a look at your own bounce rates, then you’re probably aware of how many web viewers probably check out your site and browse away without ever taking the time to scroll. There is real data out there, and when your business is depending on it, it’s hard to justify not going where the current trends are pointing.

So, is there a page fold? If you’re involved in web marketing, then the answer is definitely, at least for now. But the web grows by people breaking rules, not by people following them – I absolutely encourage people to push the limits of how people interact with the web, and to make scrolling a bigger part of the user experience. Yes, plenty of experimental designs end up coming off simply as a pain in the ass for the user, but that’s no reason not to keep innovating. Someone along the line is going to get very popular (and perhaps very rich) starting the next big trend in user interaction. The constantly changing landscape of the web is what keeps web designers in demand, and in business.


6 Responses to “Is there really no page fold?”

  1. 1 Cartoongoddes December 22, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I think designers should plan for a “fold” just as they should factor in boundaries.

  2. 2 Gabriel December 22, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Here’s an interesting tool that Google Labs just launched:
    It shows what most people see before scrolling. We still believe you should pay attention to your own analytics to determine what most of your visitors can say (look at screen resolution)

  3. 3 Jeff December 22, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Unless screens get huge or eyes get sharper, that first impression “above the fold” is going to stay fairly constant for the next few years.

    There will always be prime realestate and subprime realestate on a display. Call it what you will, but ignore it at your peril.

  4. 4 Robert Scott December 23, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Well said. It’s always *theoretically* true that people can successfully shake up an interface, but it’s another matter entirely whether it can be shaken up *successfully.*

    There’s no reason that a book has to be oriented vertically, open on the right, and provide text in blocks moving from left to right and top to bottom. Some people mess with this, some are even successful. But there’s a reason that 99.99% of books are laid out this way. And it’s equally as foolish to set about publishing a book without knowing these conventions as it is to set about designing a web site without knowing about the web’s own conventions and standards.

  5. 5 Gregory Thompson January 8, 2010 at 6:30 am

    Well taken. I’m a good designer myself.

  6. 6 Erik January 19, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I thought was being ironic. Because it’s really obnoxious.

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