Moving Past the Fold
Design requires an understanding of both the message and the medium. While a new medium is being explored, it’s natural to borrow design concepts from known mediums. This is the case with the fold. The fold comes from the newspaper industry and refers to the line along which the paper gets folded, creating two distinct regions: above the fold and below the fold. In the context of newspaper layout, the important, attention grabbing information needs to be above the fold. A prospective buyer needed to be enticed by what they could see (the information above the fold) to purchase a copy.
As web design began, the concept of the fold was borrowed and applied to describe the content visible on the screen upon page load versus the content that required scrolling to be seen. While much of the web design community has moved past this, I still hear echos of the concern in client meetings when a client wants all the information at the top of a page or insists on not needing to scroll on a page.
The Fold Does Not Exist on the Web
These concerns were at least implementable in the early days of the web, when screen sizes and devices were few and relatively standard. There was often a strong majority using a particular screen resolution, and that constraint could be designed for. Now, with the proliferation of monitors and devices, there may still be a common resolution, but the non-common resolutions outnumber the common one. Where is the fold when a site is being viewed on a desktop computer, a tablet, and a phone? The fold does not exist. It doesn’t exist because the web is not a static medium. Newspapers, as a printed medium, have known dimensions and known contexts. The web has fluid dimensions depending on the context. Modern web design is shedding the constraints of falsely constructed dimensional conditions. It is embracing the fluidity of the medium.
At the core of embracing the fluid nature of the web is embracing scrolling. Scrolling is ubiquitous in computer use and web browsing; users are accustomed to it. They understand that they can scroll down to see more information. Of course vertical scrolling is the norm and therefore what users are accustomed to, so horizontal scrolling is employed only in specific circumstances and after much deliberation.
Not “Visible,” but “Hierarchical”
There is a concept deeper than the fold that is applicable to web design, applicable to all design, and that is hierarchy. Size, spacial relationships, colors, and other methods are used to establish informational hierarchy, guiding a user through a design. For newspapers, the concrete fold was an important constraint in designing the hierarchy on the page. On the web, while we don’t have the fold, we still employ hierarchy to guide a visitor down a page and through the website.
Forget the fold and the attempts to stuff everything above it, and focus on prioritizing the information. As your designer, I’ll create a layout that demonstrates that priority through well-formed hierarchy.