Into The Fold: Why Web Design is More than One “Rule”

Pick up the Paper graphic Blog

R.J. LaCount Jan 24 2013

Pick Up The Paper Graphic

If you want to call yourself a web designer these days, you’d better be ready to keep up. Daily study is required or you’ll be left in the dust.

I follow countless blogs, listen to podcasts during my commute, and work on random projects at home just to try out new things.

When I start talking about design, my friends’ eyes gloss over and they suddenly need to go home – but what can I say? I’m really into this stuff.

That being said, I have a confession that might make the modern web design community cringe a bit: I care about the fold.

The what?

“The Fold” is a dated concept originally stemming from printed newspapers. If you wanted your headline to pop, it needed to be no more than halfway down the page: the point where newspapers were “folded” for display.

When digital media burst onto the scene, the average screen resolution was 1024×768 (or if you lived on the bleeding edge, 1280×1024). Consequently, designers determined that the safe digital equivalent of “the fold” was 600px from the top of the page. If your content was below this point, it was less likely to be seen.

Now, things are a bit different.

Portent.com visits: Comparing screen resolutions in 2008 and 2013

In the future, that chart’s only going to become more fragmented. We’re already browsing the web on our phones, tablets and TVs. Pretty soon we’ll be browsing the web on our bathroom mirrors.

So, the fold is dead, right?

A few years ago, I was riding high on the “Fold Is Dead” bandwagon, preaching about how “users these days know how to scroll!”

But working at an Internet marketing agency that deals in real stats and analytics knocks you off that bandwagon real quick.

It’s still true: content above the fold gets looked at more than anything else.

But a couple of other things are also true:

  1. Users are comfortable scrolling (especially on small / mobile screens).
  2. The traditional approach to a quantifiable pixel number representing “the fold” is no longer relevant.

The fold is not dead… but you also shouldn’t be trying to force everything important above some arbitrary line.

Alright, I’m pulling my hair out now. What should I do?

Calm down, for starters.

The purpose of defining the fold was never to cram every possible thing above it. Because if everything is important, guess what? Nothing’s important.

Let’s go back to the fundamental: the whole purpose of considering the fold is to entice your audience to continue reading or, in the context of the web, scroll. Take a look at one of my favorite examples:

Notice how there’s almost nothing above the fold on this page, yet it screams “scroll down and continue reading.”

Whether it’s the headline suggesting there is something interesting below or the giant glacier submerged just below the cutoff, you’re compelled to read more. Additionally, simple design and large typography make it less intimidating for the user to dive down into more content. This is how you use the fold.

What I’m hearing is that I should stop trying so hard…

Exactly.

Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I love the web’s current explosion of screen resolutions and form factors. It’s whipping a wicked curveball right to the high inside corner of all these “rules” – rules that have evolved over time into completely skewed versions of what they were originally intended to be.

Some of your “above the fold” content is inevitably going to be cut off.

The resolution of screens viewing the web is constantly improving. No one can predict what your site may look like on some Internet-capable washing machine or car dashboard of the future, so don’t blindly obey hard and fast design “rules” without question. The fold is a guideline, not a mandate.

If a user starts scrolling down your main page, the fold has accomplished its goal. Now all you have to worry about is the rest of the site! (No pressure or anything.)

Have you come across any great examples of sites using the fold correctly? Let us know in the comments.

tags : internet marketingsearch marketingweb designweb marketing

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6 Comments

  1. Being above the fold is huge. But I like that you put in there that there are now “curve balls” to the rules that once governed internet marketing. There truly is almost no limit to the creativity that can be used to market companies and products.

  2. Hey R.J. – great read. I think the fold still has it’s place. I use it on all of my sites, but still have relevant content below the fold when people aren’t ready to take my call to action.

    It’s interesting though, with blog posts and content marketing, longer is typically better. That gets blown out the window when you see short paragraphs virally spreading across the web.

    I guess I’m left to conclude no one is ever right 100% of the time.

    • Thanks, Michael.

      You’ve got the right idea. I think it boils down to questioning every “rule” you hear, thinking critically about how it may have evolved over time and where it might run into snags in the future.

      It’s funny how the unpredictable nature of the web forces us to get back to the basic fundamentals of design; utilizing the rules as they were intended to work in the first place. Situations like this remind me how it always pays off in the long-run to question everything and take the time to learn why things are the way they are.

  3. Hello RJ, nice post indeed. I do agree with Michael, the fold still has it’s place. Folds can be used to show relevant content below itself.

  4. This blog is really informative and helpful for web designers. I have just joined this field so was not aware about these things, Thanks for developing my knowledge.

  5. Great info here R.J. Good to compare the fold in newspaper to the fold in online websites. This is extremely helpful when determining what is going to capture the eyes of your audience.

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