Should you ‘fold’ in web design

11th March, 2010


Until recently it seemed that everybody—designers and clients alike—were obsessed with the idea that everything on a web page had to be ‘above the fold’ That is, it had to fit into the first screen’s-worth of the page without the need to scroll. The ‘fold’, of course, is a concept originating from the newspaper industry; the paper being folded in order to fit on a shelf or into a street vending cabinet, and so you had to get your eye-grabbing headlines into that top section. The idea propagated through into the direct mail industry and acquired a seemingly unstoppable momentum.

However, it doesn‘t translate as simplistically into a digital model. First of all, if you design with ‘the fold’ as a prime consideration then you have to ask yourself “where is the fold?” A few years back all computers had screen sizes somewhere around the 800x600 pixel mark, but nowadays the range of screen sizes has never been greater. I personally have an iphone with a screen sized at 320x480 px, and a desktop monitor sized at 2560x1600 px.

Web designers these days are actively trying to wean clients away from the idea of this illusory ‘fold’, and to get them to realise that, for the average informational web page, vertical scrolling is not a problem. People have been using the web for a while now, remember, and people are quite used to the idea that you might need to scroll to see the entire page. Tests show that if the content is interesting to them, scrolling will not deter anyone from reading the whole article or whatever. If the content is NOT interesting, well… in that case scrolling is not the issue.

Times when you SHOULD fold

It is not a black and white argument, of course. There are plenty of situations where you do want your content visible without scrolling. Landing pages for an online marketing campaign are a good example, where you probably have a concise description of your offer and some sort of ‘call to action’ button. Obviously you want both of those to be visible without scrolling.

In conclusion

For those specific situations where design elements are required to have ‘instant eye-grab’ then, yes, consider the typical monitor size of your audience (refer to your server logs for that invaluable information) or *intended* audience (harder to determine). Then design accordingly and cautiously in the knowledge that you may need to accommodate a wide range of screen sizes, and that monitor resolution does not necessarily give you the amount of space in your visitor’s browser window (see: The Myth of the Perfect Width for Web Design).

For other regular web pages that simply give information to the visitor, forget about the fold because most of the time it just doesn’t matter. To paraphrase/mutilate the famous line from Field of Dreams:

“If you make it interesting, they will scroll.”

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