TERM: The Fold

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A folded newspaper Another wednesday today. So I'll try to inform you with a term from the design industry that have risen a bit of momentum within the web design community - but mostly by not being a good analogy.

The fold is a theoretical construct to ease discussions about visual design and usability. The term stems from the newspaper industry where newspapers are delivered folded and only the top half was viewed before readers settled on whether or not to bother reading the paper. Hence the editors needed to address the issue by moving and changing content to spread more important news stories.

The fold on the web

On the web, the fold refers to that specific point on the web page where users need to scroll to see more content. This metric often varies quite a lot depending on a number of visitor unique variables. For example  your visitor use different devices which have different screen resolutions and also different browsers which chrome takes up different amount of screen real estate. The size of the chrome also depends on other settings such as font size, installed browserplugins and activated toolbars.

Many web site owners are kind of obsessed with the fold, and thinks that all content must be above the fold to your uses to see it. However, users do scroll, and it’s generally more important to have just a couple of single elements above the fold to encourage your users to start scrolling.

The fold is not as important as often is assumed, especially since the fold can differ with over 400%  between your smallest and largest screen size of your vistiors. However there is some argument in that visitors put more attention to content high up. And according to Nielsen that web users spend 80% of their time looking at content above the fold and although they do scroll, they only allocate 20% of their attention below the page fold. So it would be sensible to put everything above the fold, right?

No its not!

If your client starts demanding that you put all important content above the fold you should start raising flags and educate them according to Paul Boag. If you would agree to their claims and start cramming content above the fold you can actually do more harm than good by creating a cluttered web site that becomes way harder to navigate than it would be otherwise.

Instead we should follow Nielsens advice:

The implications are clear: the material that’s the most important for the users’ goals or your business goals should be above the fold. Users do look below the fold, but not nearly as much as they look above the fold.

People will look very far down a page if (a) the layout encourages scanning, and (b) the initially viewable information makes them believe that it will be worth their time to scroll.

Finally, while placing the most important stuff on top, don’t forget to put a nice morsel at the very bottom.

So why do we need this term?

Well, I’m not really sure that we need it, but it’s out there so we need to know what it is all about when we start discussion web pages with other designers.

As a web designer, do you use this term in your daily work? Please tell me in the comments!