Tuesday, July 24, 2007

There is no Fold

I have recently been called to account, in two separate occasions, for a link on a web page being "below the fold."

"Below the fold" means roughly "below the visible part of the page when it first renders." Or, "stuff you have to scroll down to see." There is an urban myth going around that you shouldn't put anything of any remote importance "below the fold," because, apparently, the web is rife with drooling morons who haven't been able to get the scroll bar to work.

The problem is that a lot of non-web-designers have somehow got it into their head that this is the ultimate litmus test on whether you have a good page design: are there any links they like "below the fold" as it is rendered on their personal computer? If so, well, why don't you go back and redo that page?

The problem with this is that there is nothing you can say to this without sounding defensive or uncooperative. If you say, "well, it's not below the fold on my computer," you're being flip. If you say, "if your content is good, they'll scroll," you're just saying that to avoid doing work (as if moving a link up the page is some Herculean task).

That's why I was glad to see this article about the myth of the fold line.

It actually goes over the research that examines the validity of the "below the fold" argument, and the research is pretty damning. Not only has research shown that scrolling been pretty much universally understood since the late nineties, but there is also evidence that the vast majority of users actually do scroll down web pages.

One juicy tidbit is that there is no fold. When you make the argument that it's dumb to base design decisions on the fold since there are so many factors that influence its position (browser, OS, browser features, browser settings, device, screen resolution, default font size, etc.), you get the argument "yeah, there will be a few pages that don't, but you can take the fold location that most users have." However, research shows that this percentage of users is about 10%. In other words, if you plan your page layout for a specific fold line, only 10% of users maximally will see that optimal design. Even if you lump in fold lines that are close together, you only account for 26%. There is no such thing as a fold line for "most" users.

But the best part of the article, actually, was in what one of the commenters on the post said. She pointed out that every novice user she's introduced to the web intuitively began scrolling without any problem, but she always sees them "back right out from a visual overload without thinking to seek lower." That's the real point here. By embracing this "fold line" nonsense, we may actually be driving people away because bad, cramped design does more to deter users than having to scroll to get to information.

Now, how do I get these armchair web designers to read this article?


Byron said...

A few random comments:

With devices like the new iPhone, the "fold" is going to be much closer to the top than on your computer screen.

What other use to do we have for that nifty scroll wheel on the mouse than to scroll through webpages? And with the new Apple Mighty Mouse, you can scroll up and down as well as side to side.

I just don't buy the "below the fold" argument... Of course, as long as this blog entry is, my comments will be "below the fold." Bummer, no one will read it. ;-)

CC said...

I read it.

But then, I know how to use a scroll bar.

Daniel Lopez said...

I couldn't read the rest of your post....It is below the fold....


CC said...

Why, I oughta...