Designing “Above the Fold” is as outdated as your grandfather’s Studebaker


 

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 As a UX Designer working in a large Digital Marketing firm over the last five years, I’ve developed a familiarity with our customer base and I’ve been in this field as a Web designer (ahem, excuse me, that’s “UX” Designer these days… same job, fancier title…) for almost 20 years now, and it’s amazing how the same requests from clients and customers pop up, regardless of the industry.

 “Can you make the logo bigger?” A classic.

“How do I get more people to come to my website?” Everybody’s concern.

“I need all this stuff ‘above the fold’… on the homepage!”  WAIT… what?!

This one still gets me. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, let me explain.

Simply put, the “fold” (think of newspapers) is the “imaginary” line of the bottom of a users’ browser window on the first load of a web page, and is usually used when talking about the home page of your site – where people think users will come first. Back when people used only computers to surf the web, you could make the argument that the “fold” of a home page was around 400 pixels down… then 600… then 750…

But honestly, the last time I was concerned about designing all of my key web content “above the fold” on the home page of a website was probably back in 2005.  That was ELEVEN years ago now, and the web is no longer just for desktop computers. Now we have netbooks, smart phones, iPads, Kindles, Surfaces, X-Boxes and many many more devices. There are no more standards. 

This has been reinforced by almost every leading mind in the interactive design field. Jeffrey Zeldman, a pioneer of the adaptive and responsive design movement, says, “Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” (http://www.zeldman.com/2008/05/06/content-precedes-design/) We need to design around CONTENT, not for DEVICE or BROWSER. The content will be interpreted by mobile browsers, devices, computers, cellular phones, smartphones… even video game systems. We cannot tell what a user will be viewing your site with, so why obsess over one particular device or browser size?

Add to that, the fact that people know how to use the mouse wheel or swipe, AND also, the fact that if people want to read a page or article, they will. When was the last time you read an interesting newspaper article, but stopped because you were too lazy to unfold it or flip it over? When was the last time you picked up an interesting book, but refused to read beyond the first page because you’d actually have to (gasp!) turn the page?

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather walk into an intentionally well-designed space like the Seattle Public Library, than navigate someone’s living room in an episode of “Hoarders”. So why doesn’t the same principle apply to the design of your homepage?

Heck, there is NO guarantee that visitors will even SEE your home page, since more and more people use Google rather than typing direct URLs into their web browser (“Is Google Trumping the URL?” – Search Engine Journal, 5/1/2008)

Now let’s bring it into the context of a setting we’re all familiar with: a car dealership.

Pretend for a minute that you run a dealership. Bear with my metaphor for a second. A potential customer arrives at your lot. We’ll call him “Mr. Jones.” Suddenly, all of your sales people all rush at Mr. Jones, each one practically shouting over one another. “We have new models! Come see!” “Wouldn’t you rather have a Certified Pre-Owned instead?” “You need an oil change, come to our Service department!” “We’ve got roof racks! You could use custom wheels as well!”

Mr. Jones would be a bit overwhelmed, don’t you think? And he certainly wouldn’t feel invited in to explore and consider his options at his own pace. In fact, odds are, he would probably head right out the door and not look back. That could be your user. Don’t worry so much about the imaginary “fold” that only exists on  your own computer, and start putting your customers (and their online habits) first.

Stop following “the rules” and think about user behavior. THAT’S the only rule that should matter. Not what your CEO heard in a Webinar seven years ago… Of course, you want to entice someone to read further. Put something interesting at the top of your site that they’ll notice on page load, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Understand that EVERYTHING doesn’t have to be “above the fold” – use this principle as a guideline, not an official mandate. And let’s stop spreading the myth that if something isn’t ABOVE THE FOLD it will never get seen!

There is no fold, and change starts with you.

And just in case you think I’m alone on my soapbox, take a minute and read a few great articles I’ve gathered that back up this viewpoint. And if you need to scroll to read the full text of any of these, I’ll assume that’s ok. ;)

 


Thoughts? Hit me up on Twitter at @robchristianson and let me know what you think.

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