The fallacy of ‘the fold’: part one

The ‘fold’ is a far less important concept on the web than it is in print. This article describes the first set of reasons why.

Many designers, and others with a passing knowledge of print-based design, like to talk about a little thing called ‘the fold’. It has most relevance in the world of newsprint, in which newspapers are often displayed folded in half. The fold simply divides the viewable, top half of the newspaper’s front page, from the lower half, usually hidden from view. Since only content above the fold is immediately viewable, it makes sense to design the page accordingly, taking into account which news stories should be most prominent.

Translating that concept to the web, however, is fraught with complications. Of course, general assumptions can hold true about how likely content is to be displayed, but the absolute design applicable to print simply doesn't apply to the wonderful, flexible world of the web.

Here are some basic attributes of a web page, as displayed in a user’s browser, that will affect the position of the fold:

A fairly substantial list, but this isn’t the end of the story. Aside from variation of the viewable area, there are a variety of settings that can affect the vertical space your page’s content consumes:

Some of these factors may seem trivial or, in particular, rarely applicable. Lucky, then, that research has been carried out to prove just how much the fold varies. ClickTale’s analysis of 120,000 page views shows that, while there are approximate positions that are relatively common, large variation between those values results in a highly variable fold. The 7th graph in that article, labelled “Distribution of Fold Location” shows that, even when rounded to the nearest 10 pixels, less than 10% of users share any single fold location (at 600 pixels).

Bear in mind that the above research was carried out over 2 years ago. It’s highly likely that since then, with the introduction of higher screen resolutions and many alternative devices used to surf the web, fold location has only become more fragmented.

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The fallacy of ‘the fold’: part two

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