“The fold.” Clients are concerned with it, advertisers want to be above it and web designers continue to argue its existence. Though this term makes sense in the newspaper industry, when it comes to web design, our philosophy is that “the fold” is dead. Hierarchy of content, a well-defined design strategy and user habits now dictate a successful website, ultimately leading users to discover the content that falls, as we like to call it, “below the screen.”
In its original application, “the fold” described which stories appeared above or below the fold in a newspaper, where content above the fold was visible to a potential buyer. Though newspaper content is bound to the preset sizes, content for a website is not, and as Three Minds accurately notes, “not everything on a web page needs to be located within an 800 x 600 layout.”
This leads us to the guiding light of our “No Fold” philosophy: a hierarchical structure of web content. Simply put, the most important content should come first and engage the user. If the first piece of content on the viewable screen does its job, users will be encouraged to scroll down the page to continue the interaction and see what other important information is provided.
Hand-in-hand with hierarchical content is design strategy. Based on advances in technology and hardware, what falls “below the screen” is different for every user, which means a well-defined design strategy cannot be ignored. Utilizing design cues, including images that anticipate more content, anchor links that jump further down the page and cleaner layouts, will encourage site visitors to explore the page. In support, according to research done by ClickTale, scrolling has become a natural practice among users and is associated with forward-thinking web design.
Finally, we believe the infamous “fold” no longer dictates a successful website because users are smarter and will search for the information they’re looking for – even if it means venturing “below the screen.” To help prove our point, CXPartner’s research shows that users don’t mind scrolling the page and that heat maps show a strong concentration on the scroll bar. Furthermore, when there is less content on the viewable screen, users are more likely to explore what is below it.
The only exception to our “No Fold” philosophy is advertisers. They have the right to be “above the fold” because ultimately their dollars help pay for the design, whether it is fold-centric or not.
Moving forward with our philosophy in hand, we will encourage clients and fellow agency folk to realize that newspaper is, in fact, the only thing that physically folds. Web pages are a different medium and capable of much more when coupled with a hierarchical content structure, design strategy and the realization that users intelligently seek out content to discover what lies “below the screen.”