‘The fold’ is an imaginary line on a website, beyond which the user has to scroll to see more content.
This term more than likely originated from the broadsheet newspaper which must be read folded due to it’s size. Editors traditionally put the most important items above the fold, cascading down to the less important ones. This trend has carried on from the press to the computer screen, and to a degree still exists today.
It’s amazing how many web designers still believe that the internet user of today hasn’t figured out what a scrollbar is for. In the early days, when the web was still new, some viewers actually believed that the page was broken if the text and images disappeared into nothing below the foot of the browser window. It was positively discouraged to have any kind of scrolling at all, and some of these old fashioned attitudes remain today, quite unnecessarily.
For a start, where actually is this fold? It depends to a great extent on the display that the user is viewing the page on. A monitor with an output of 800×600 pixels will have a fold much higher up the page than a widescreen of 1980×1200. Likewise, a viewer on a netbook with a resolution of 1024×768 pixels will see the fold in a different place to someone on a mobile phone. Research suggests that at best if we decide to design based on a fold we will get it right for at most 10% of our target audience, so how do we deal with all these instances if ‘the fold’ is real?
The simple answer is that we don’t let it worry us too much at all! We design so that there is compelling content at the top of the screen and then just get on with building clean, simple web pages. There are techniques which can help, such as cutting off text and images so users know there is more to follow, but users on large monitors often view their browsers tiled at a size of their choosing, so you just can’t get it right.
I guess what I am saying is that it’s good to have a page that scrolls. People are used to scrolling. They scroll when looking for contacts on their mobile phone, or when viewing the channel guide on their Sky box. It’s second nature now that the web is such an integral part of peoples lives. We shouldn’t try to cram pixels into the top portion of the screen, we should allow our designs room to breathe and make them a pleasure to view.
If your content is interesting enough, people will scroll and read it.