By Chris Cardinal
On December 19th, 2009
WELCOME TO THE WORLD WIDE WEB, AN INTERACTIVE MEDIUM IN WHICH SCREEN RESOLUTION STATISTICS ARE TRIVIAL, BROWSER VIEWPORTS ARE VARIABLE, AND SCROLLING BEHAVIOUR IS A STANDARD. THERE IS NO PAGE FOLD. LOVE YOUR SCROLLBAR.
The buzz on Twitter from “designer” types appears to be a knee-jerk “ZOMG YES SO TRUE!!!111one” while responses on the site’s reddit thread have been more measured. I especially appreciate the following comment, by one fletcher_t:
Well of course it depends on the context of what the site is providing… but there is indeed a fold and if you’re ignorant of that, may god have mercy on your soul.
Let’s be perfectly clear: There IS a “fold”. For the uninitiated, the “fold” refers to the literal crease in a newspaper. Editors recognized the importance of catching their reader’s interest “above the fold”, because the likelihood a reader will bother to look under the fold is lower as a whole. Readers who might not typically read the sports section, for instance, will notice a story above the fold if it’s of interest to them. If they’re just flipping past as they always do, they’re far less likely to look beneath the fold.
The assertion made by the “no fold” site is that, because technology has provided us with infinite page lengths, we should design our pages accordingly. We can space things out more, we can use larger print and increase readability, and we shouldn’t be so concerned with what lies above the fold because users will scroll anyway! We were on a roll there up until that third point, weren’t we?
The reality is that the science of user attention is a tricky one, and more of an art than anything. Heat maps and eye-tracking studies frequently show huge dividends by presenting the initial page-load in a clear, concise manner, with well delineated courses of action visible to the user and readily accessible. Users will absolutely scroll, if you’ve given them a compelling reason to believe anything of interest lies beneath the fold. Users are fickle types, though, who scan quickly, look for large visual cues, and make an off-the-cuff and perhaps misinformed decision to bounce away from your site in an incredibly short amount of time, if you don’t captivate them instantly. To capture their interest, you simply must pay attention to the content that resides above the fold.
With Google’s release of Browser Size the other day, Tech Crunch mentioned that Google saw a 10% increase in the number of installs of Google Earth, simply by moving the download button up 100 pixels. By placing the call to action and primary focus of the page above the fold, users were far more likely to follow through. Naturally, this will vary from site to site. Amazon.com has a rather long page, which they use to show multiple categories of products they think you’ll be interested in. Their primary feature and what they hope will have the most success is always at the top, though—a compelling enticement to scroll further and see what else they got right.
Understand, this is by no means an argument for cramming everything of any importance above the fold. Not even a little bit. (And I understand that the no-fold site is likely directed at those types—but does anyone actually try to force entire sites above the fold anymore?) Whitespace should be well utilized, large print is totally acceptable, and designers shouldn’t force pages to fit into any idea of a “standard” vertical viewport. CXPartners even argues that including less information above the fold can encourage users to scroll more, arguably by reducing the utility of the site to the point where they’re forced to scroll.
It’s not my claim the no-fold site is implying you should ignore the above-fold design or disregard its design entirely, but the cheeky site title and its assertion that there is NO page fold degrades the importance of how you construct your pages for those first 700 or so pixels. Encourage your users to scroll, not by reducing utility but by increasing interest. Facilitate this behavior by keeping large, blocking horizontal lines and blocks at bay (advice from CXPartners’ piece) and providing clear paths downward. Ensure that users see that additional content exists further down. But don’t forget that your site’s first impression is above the fold.