The Nielsen Norman Group stirred controversy when it published an article promoting the importance of “the fold”. Most of the research I’ve read in the last few years has blasted “the fold”, as an outdated notion – a holdover from an era when content was generally published in only one format. There is even a Tumblr site, dubbed “There is no fold”, composed of tweets by Luke Wroblewski. I think the Nielsen Norman Group article argues a couple of interesting points, but there are a few other considerations that designers should think about, too.
The biggest obstacle isn’t how audiences react to the page fold, but the page turn
I was alarmed when I read: “Users do scroll, but only if what’s above the fold is promising enough”. Although I would not be surprised to see a study that says if the top of an article looks more like a title screen than actual content, users are statistically more likely to click away, so don’t do that.
But forget scrolling for a moment: most of the time, users don’t even click on a link to a page unless the link is promising enough.
Let’s assume, for a moment, that if a user makes a deliberate choice to navigate to a page, it’s because the link to the page convinced them they’ll find something there. They’re not likely to give up just because what they want isn’t near the top of the page – especially when browsing on a smartphone, where everything interesting is below the fold, and everyone should be used to it (or so, I would guess).
In a very general sense (and with admitted exceptions), I think an effective page title – that conveys the value of the page to potential visitors – can be about as important as what goes above the fold. Because page titles are often shown with links shared on social media – the page title is what informs audiences that they want to turn to your page.
When you look around at enough websites, you can see the fold is still relevant
But here’s the thing: I’m starting to notice websites in the wild, where I can see the point of minding the fold. Some sites seem to forgo any effort to be mindful of viewport height at all.
For example, look at the beautiful Play Framework website. On a desktop, the intro content is a little tall, and maybe users are less likely to scroll past the video. But when I look at this same homepage on my iPhone 5s, things get a little hairy: the framework’s marketing slogan, “The High Velocity Web Framework For Java and Scala” doesn’t fit on the screen. It cuts off after the word, “Web”.
In the interest of full disclosure: the 2015 redesign of this website was built using the Play Framework, and I genuinely like a lot of the work I’ve seen by Zengularity. I wouldn’t be surprised if a website like this mostly gets traffic from desktop devices (where people write code). There could be valid reasons why presentation on a smartphone isn’t a priority.
Final takeaway: Everything in moderation
Even if there is no fold (or no fold that exists in one place across all delivery platforms), it isn’t a license to completely ignore viewport height. In other words, don’t let your design be bullied around by requirements that x, y, and z always be above the fold – but don’t go completely nuts, making all of the things crazy tall, either.