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.