Why the fold still matters… sometimes


In early web design we always used to talk about the “fold” — the part of the screen a user will see without scrolling down the page. It’s a legacy from Broadsheet newspapers that sit folded on Newsagent shelves — important information above the fold so passing patrons pick up your paper. Tabloid newspapers have the whole front page to entice patrons to pick up the publication — maybe this is more the state of the web these days. Many think those who still design with the fold in mind to be old school and outdated, but sometimes the fold still matters.

Yes, users scroll now

They’ve been trained on infinitely scrolling social News-Feeds, inboxes and online shopping results. They scroll past full-screen images with white titles overlaid to find the content — something that my website is guilty of. They scroll down on search results because they’ve learned that the first three results are ads. They scroll while they wait for slow pages to load. They scroll because it’s easy to do with a thumb on a glass screen.

But, we’ve forgotten users won’t always scroll

When users are engaged, we know they scroll. They’ve come to your site to do something and they will scroll. Taking it back to the newspaper analogy, if they’ve already bought your newspaper they’re going to unfold it and read it, so information can be below the fold. But if the user is just walking past they won’t stop and unfold the paper; even if your website isn’t the main goal you still need to consider the fold. Anything below the fold will get missed so the important information needs to be above.

When writing instructions, it would be foolish to write: “take the cap off… after draining the oil”. What happens? People don’t read the full instruction and end up with oil all over the place. It’s not their fault, it would be my fault for writing the information in that order.

Wifi login pages are one example where the fold should matter. Especially if there is extra input required both below the fold AND below the submit button!

Telstra free wifi in Melbourne CBD is guilty of this. I’m not going to scroll this page, it looks like all the information I need to fill out is done and I hit Connect. Only to get an error because I didn’t agree to the terms and conditions which are below the fold & the button. This is extremely frustrating for the user, it has slowed down my goal because of bad design. In the grand scheme of things it’s wasted a minute of their time which doesn’t seem like a lot. But the user might not have any cellular data and need to connect to check something time critical and you’ve stopped them from doing that. They’ve missed a submission deadline. They’ve missed the train they were looking up. They’ve got a bad taste in their mouth regarding your brand, so next time they need a new phone or internet connection they’re going to think twice, Telstra. User experience matters.

The fold matters when you stop me from going to your website to advertise your app. If I have to not only scroll to download the app you’re advertising, but to get rid of the prompt and continue to your site, I’m probably just going to abandon your site and go somewhere else. Your interstitial should not go beyond the fold.

The fold is also important when it comes to pop-ups, which you shouldn’t be using anyway. You’ve only got seconds to stop me from clicking the close on a pop-up. If you want me to sign up for your newsletter, make it simple. You’re lucky if I’ll even give you my email to sign up for your newsletter when you’ve interrupted my flow, so there’s absolutely no way I’m scrolling and interacting to give you more information below the fold.

So next time you start to say “the fold doesn’t matter”, stop and think about whether the user has already bought your newspaper. If they haven’t, you need to sell it above the fold.

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