Adopting the lingo of the old newspaper days, we say that something is ‘above the fold’ in the digital age if you can see it when a webpage loads without scrolling. Conventional wisdom in web design says that if something important is below the fold, it’s less likely to be seen, which is why you see so many top-heavy website designs out there, with a million pieces of content crammed in the first few hundred pixels.
For international design firm Huge Inc., “above the fold” design thinking is a huge pet peeve. In our own glossary of designer jargon, they told us that they “disliked” the term, because “although first impressions are very important, users will inevitably scroll down a page to see the remainder of the content.”
But that’s not just a baseless assertion: Huge researcher Rebecca Gordon and Creative Director Evan Dody tested 48 participants over three days, in which they measured scrolling activity across four different sites.
Furthermore, each site signaled the ability to scroll in its own different way:
• A control image, with no visual cues to scroll below the fold.
• A scroll arrow that cues users to scroll down.
• A short image, where users had to scroll to see above-the-fold content in entirety.
• An animated image with a moving element to lead viewers below the fold.
Huge found that no matter how a site was designed, users scrolled. In fact, in each case, between 91% and 92% of users scrolled immediately. That means scrolling for the vast majority of people is an almost reflexive action; before your brain has even registered a site’s design, you’re already scrolling, just to see if it’s possible.
All of which just goes to show that, a lot of the time, conventional wisdom is really just ignorance by consensus. That certainly seems to be true when it comes to the idea that putting something above the fold is the only way to get every user to see it. The implication of “above the fold” design thinking is that your average user is a broken-fingered moron who doesn’t know how to use a scroll wheel or trackpad, but this is categorically false.
As Huge says, first impressions are important, but that doesn’t mean stuffing all of your important content on the first screen of your web page. No one on Earth is going to miss it just because they had to scroll to get to it.