Does The Fold Exist in 2016?

Simon Read
By Simon ReadUX Designer
5 minutes to read

"The Fold” is a term co-opted from the days of newspaper layouts, referring to the headlines which were viewable when the paper was folded in half.

In web design 'the fold' means the content that’s viewable without the user having to scroll down to see it - but with myriad devices and screen sizes now available, is this still a relevant concept?

What is 'the fold'?

When creating a newspaper layout the most important and prominent headlines are rightly given priority at the top half of the front page. This ensures that when that morning’s edition was folded and stacked for sale, the most attention-grabbing stories were still visible at a glance to passers-by.

With the early days of web design rooted in print this concept was held onto, with designers, marketers and managers all vying to make sure that every single call-to-action, enquiry form and selling point was pushed right to the top of the page, in fear that the user would not know to scroll down and so would otherwise never see them.

Early web design was a lawless wasteland

What’s wrong with that?

The idea of 'the fold' in web design is based on the out-dated notion that users do not know that they need to scroll down - and if they do, that they’re too lazy to - and so everything important on a page should always be right at the top just to be sure. Whilst there is some truth in the idea that there should be a clear priority of content on a page, the scrolling myth has been debunked numerous times.

In just one example, as part of a 2014 Time.com article titled “What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong”, web analytics firm Chartbeat crunched the numbers on 1 million visitors to 10 large sites over a 24 hour period and ascertained that “66% of attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold”.

Online customer insights firm ClickTale analysed over 100,000 users of their service and saw that 76% of visitors made full use of their scroll bar, with many scrolling to the very bottom of the page - and this was in 2006. Numerous other surveys from firms such as Neilson and Huge support the argument that the fold is a dated concept.

Everybody scrolls

Does screen size make a difference?

Sure, but not in the way you may think. In those heady early days of web design you could count on one hand the number of common screen sizes, which made designing for the fold pretty straightforward; if it wasn’t in the top ~700 pixels of the page, then it likely wouldn’t fit onto your state-of-the-art 17” CRT screen.

Responsive design - websites that scale and rearrange depending on your screen size and device screen size - blow this concept out of the water. On a large 27” desktop computer screen a site designed with a 700 pixels-high fold in mind would look small and cramped. Conversely, on a mobile phone with a 768 pixels-tall viewing are,a the fold would go beyond the height of the screen.

Forcing the concept of the fold into webdesign in 2016 is tricky at best - with no hard or fast rule for where you should consider a fold to be, potentially sabotaging the usability and effectiveness of your own site for the sake of it.

A sample of just some of the screen sizes visiting our site in June-September 2016. Fancy coming up with one fold for all of these?

OK, so what can I do instead?

Take the time you’d spend making sure all your “key content” is pushed to the very top of every webpage and instead focus on creating a better overall site - one that keeps people reading, scrolling and engaging.

What would we recommend instead?

  1. Creating a clear priority on each page - Take a step back and think about what a user is looking for on each page and make sure it’s designed with that in mind
  2. Improving the usability of your site - Keep call-to-actions clear, make forms easy to complete, pages easy to navigate and content simple to understand
  3. Spending time and budget creating better content - Clear, concise and easy to read content that gives the user a reason to keep scrolling

Forget the fold, focus on a better site instead

What should I not do?

Stick everything at the top of your website and hope for the best.

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Articles by Simon Read

Designer at Enjoy Digital. Interested in web and user interface design, and graphic design both online & offline.