There Is No Fold

9th August 2014  -  by Alex Bimpson  -  0 Comments

The so-called "fold" has long been a hot topic of debate amongst web designers, developers and content editors. Well, forget what you may think you know - I'm here to tell you that there is no fold.

The general concept of the fold came from newspaper publishers, in order to distinguish between the headline content visible at the top of the paper, and the content on the lower section of the page, folded over and hidden away on a newspaper stand. It's important in print that the key content appears above this fold, and that headlines aren't cut off part way through, because they need to grab the attention of shoppers and passers-by.

As the popularity of the internet grew, the concept of the fold was embraced by web designers and editors to determine between the content initially visible on screen, and the content you have to scroll to in order to see. Back when everyone was browsing on a 1024 x 768px 14" monitor, it was fairly easy to guestimate where this fold might occur for the vast majority of users, and so the fold became common terminology amongst designers.

Fast forward to today, and people are browsing content across a vast array of different devices, from 30" desktop monitors to 10" tablets, 5" phablets and mobiles with screens below 4", all usable in both portrait and landscape orientations. My first point, then, is that it's completely impossible to define where a fold might be for any given user - content can render completely differently on every single device, making it very difficult to even begin designing content around a particular fold.

Secondly, the whole reason for keeping content above the fold on newspapers is to catch people's attention, make them pick up the paper to read more, and ultimately make them buy that paper. The difference with the web is, you've already got the user's attention. People aren't reading your page by accident, you've already engaged them the moment they clicked through to you, or typed your web address into their browser bar. You're not trying to catch the attention of random passers-by in the street. To put it metaphorically, they've already unfolded your paper.

Finally, and most importantly, computers and mobile devices aren't new anymore - people know how to use them. That is to say, your readers have grasped the concept of scrolling. Mice have scroll wheels, trackpads have scroll gestures and mobile devices can be swiped, pinched and zoomed. Scrolling is second nature to even the least tech-savvy users - the moment they hit your page, people are ready to scroll, ultimately making any concept of the fold obsolete.

In a recent debate with a defender of the fold, I quickly realised that their arguments actually stemmed from the fact that they simply didn't like having to scroll, which brings me to the most important point of all. No, there is no definable fold, but that doesn't mean that users want to keep scrolling forever. For designers and editors, it is still important to engage users as quickly as possible, and to make the information they're after as easy as possible to find. You still want your most important content at the top of the page, and a strong, clearly defined visual hierarchy of information is vital. Keep it short, sharp and to-the-point, but don't lose your hair fretting over vague concepts from bygone times.

by Alex Bimpson

Web designer and developer, and founder of Prrple. Works at Kerve, and studied Architecture at the University of Bath.

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