Many Folds Given: The Most Incredible Article About The Fold You’ll Ever Read
October 19, 2016 | Ryan Mowery
I’ve had many spirited disagreements regarding the fold. My gut reaction is to say, there is no fold, it’s dead. But looking deeper, it’s just not that simple.
First, what’s “the fold?”
The fold refers to the content area that is visible when a web page first loads. The specific size of the area has been debated for years. Unlike the newspaper, where the term originated, there is no longer an exact answer. Thanks to responsive design and the rise of mobile browsing, users can access a website via cinema display, laptop, mobile device, or a VR/wearable device–all of which, have their own “fold.”
You can’t plan for a pixel perfect strategy for your website’s fold. There is not a world where every user views the exact same thing on every device. You can plan an essentials-first content strategy with a flexible design system that prioritizes engaging content and clear hierarchy.
How does it affect decision making?
The fold is about the ruthless prioritization of content: the landing area of each page should use only the essentials. Everything “above the fold” helps users determine if the site is worth exploring. Having a user-focused strategy and showing restraint in terms of the content displayed reduces the paralyzing effect of too many choices when users land on your site. A brand new user needs to digest the website’s purpose, discern interaction patterns, and interpret cues from the copy that their questions—the reason they’re there in the first place—will be answered.
But I thought users didn’t scroll?
There is a plethora of competing studies on scrolling behavior. You can boil all of them down to to this quote from Nielsen Norman Group: “Users do scroll, but only if what’s above the fold is promising enough. What is visible on the page without requiring any action is what encourages us to scroll.” If there isn’t anything engaging or helpful to the user on your site, no amount of content will convince them to dive deeper into the experience.
Consider visually impaired users
According to the World Health Organization “285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide, 39 million which are blind and 246 have low vision.” The web should be equally accessible and usable for everyone, not just the audience with the best vision, and internet connection. Prioritizing content can help visually impaired users easily navigate what is otherwise a cluttered landscape.
Too often the website’s interaction design is the single largest barrier between the user getting what they need and opening a new tab and starting the search over again. Invest the time in making hard choices. Put information where users expect to see it. The fold is an opportunity. Work with these limitations to surface hierarchy within your site’s experience. Your users will show their appreciation–by scrolling past the fold.
People say there’s not a fold and they’re right, but also not right. It’s complex. As a designer, if you do your job well people will scroll past the fold naturally and if you don’t, you don’t get to blame “the fold” as the reason they don’t engage.
Illustrations and header image by Senior Designer Michael Bosyj.