The New Rules of The Fold

In 1996, while discussing the importance of the inverted pyramid style of writing, usability expert Jakob Nielsen wrote that “users don’t scroll”. From there the idea of The Fold as an integral part of web design came into being.

But, as Nielsen himself has said, the Internet has evolved and “as users got more experience with scrolling pages, many of them started scrolling”. That’s not to say that the fold is no longer of any importance, just that the rules have changed.

Looking at eye tracking data—the current gold standard for design and usability testing—design agency cxpartners has come up with some new rules (with examples) for dealing with the fold in web design:

  1. Less is more – don’t be tempted to cram everything above the fold. Good use of whitespace and imagery encourages exploration.
  2. Stark, horizontal lines discourage scrolling – this doesn’t mean stop using horizontal full width elements. Have a small amount of content just visible, poking up above the fold to encourage scrolling.
  3. Avoid the use of in-page scroll bars – the browser scrollbar is an indicator of the amount of content on the page. iFrames and other elements with scroll bars in the page can break this convention and may lead to content not being seen.

Jeff Attwood of Coding Horror looks at how this advice can actually be applied.

It’s not only a basic rule of writing, it’s also a basic rule of the web: put the most important content at as close to the top of the page as you can. This isn’t new advice, but it’s so important that it never hurts to revisit it periodically in your own designs.

In treating user myopia, it’s not enough to place important stuff directly in the user’s eyepoint. You also need to ensure that you’ve placed the absolute most important stuff at the top of the page — and haven’t created any accidental barriers to scrolling, so they can find the rest of it. The fold is far less important than it used to be, but it isn’t quite as mythical as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster quite yet.