December 10, 2015 · Chad Carteret

Ironing Out “The Fold”

The online marketing industry is relatively new, definitely more so than traditional marketing and as a result it has inherited a lot from it’s traditional marketing predecessors.  For instance, web design trends and terminology, at the inception of the field, borrowed heavily from those previously found in print and traditional media design.  It’s no mystery that the trends in web design move so fast that it can be hard to keep up, but the jargon used to describe each new trend or design element can be a bit more sluggish. 

One term that web design has inherited from print design is the concept of “the fold.” The concept of the fold originated in the newspaper industry. Since newspapers are sold folded and flat, headlines and images that appeared “above the fold” were the only ones visible to potential buyers. These headlines and images were often chosen to be attractive and attention-grabbing to entice passers-by and increase sales. As the term began to translate to web design it began to refer to content that appeared at the top of a website before a user had to scroll. Due to monitor sizes when websites were just beginning to see a rise in popularity, the concept of being above the fold was often limited to a small area usually no bigger than 800 by 600 pixels. Nowadays the web is viewable on a plethora of devices with virtually limitless variations in screen sizes, effectively rendering the concept of the fold no longer applicable. Unfortunately, the obsolescence of this term has been slowly adopted causing the term to linger much to the chagrin of fellow web designers.

So if we aren’t designing to be “above the fold” then what should we be designing for? Well, the most prevalent principle of design is just as relevant today as it was decades ago.

At its core, web design is about creating an attractive and intuitive hierarchy of information.

Our goal as designers is to highlight the page’s primary objective and bring due attention to it, all the while maintaining that other parts of the page still contain pertinent ancillary information that shouldn’t be wholly overlooked. This is most often achieved by making the main call to action very prominent and immediately visible as soon as the visitor lands on the page, but this definitely isn’t the only way to achieve that hierarchy and it may not even be the best way. A test discussed on Kissmetrics revealed that a call to action that appeared at the bottom of a webpage, well out of the initially viewable area on load, out performed an alternative call to action that appeared above the fold by a whopping 304%.
It’s clear that users know how to scroll and with the advent of smartphones and other technology scrolling has become second nature. Gone are the days that demanded we have the bulk of a website’s content appearing above the fold. Now we as designers are afforded much more real estate to convey a proper hierarchy of information and lead the viewer’s eye on a journey of discovery down the page. The web has become much more engaging with enriched content and oftentimes a visual narrative for the eye to enjoy as a result.

So the next time someone tries to preach about the fallacy of the fold, attempt to quell your disdain and feel free to respond with a snarky gif. Here are some of my favorites:

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