the fold

Here we go. Another designer posting another article about how the web design fold line is an irrelevant myth. It seems we have been here a million times before, only this time I’d like to talk about the surrounding issues and what can be done to improve the client/designer relationship.

If you aren’t up to speed on this issue, I recommend reading Paddy Donnelly’s excellent post life below 600px. In a nutshell, the theory is that all the good stuff on a website must fit within the top 600 pixels, because people don’t scroll. There was a time when this was at least reasonable, back in the days where the majority of people had a 800×600 monitor, and the scroll wheel was a luxury. Nowadays though, with the vast array of different screen sizes and the ease of scrolling on touch devices, it is beyond irrelevant.

People have been scrolling since the invention of the scroll in Ancient Egypt. It is a concept that has been around for a very long time and it has been on computers (in command line interfaces) well before the invention of all the other graphical elements that we are told need to be squeezed upwards. Potentially compromising the quality of design and usability in the process.

The surrounding problem

As a designer in an agency I work with many clients on a variety of projects, and being asked about The Fold has long lived at the top of my list of frustrations.

When looking to build a user interface, clients hire us because they believe we have the experience and talent required to make their project look great. As a result they will take our advice on a number of things including layout, navigation and use of colour. However, The Fold is something that people continue to believe in very strongly. It has somehow become like a trade secret, or a golden rule that must be obeyed.

Don’t go on the defensive

In order to tackle this scenario effectively we need to jump into the mindset of our clients. They are asking us to do some extra work, based on something they have learned from a (supposedly) reputable source, and they simply want to ensure that their website is going to be a success.

Bearing that in mind, I am ready to admit that I have made the mistake in the past of spluttering into my usual “The Fold is a myth” speech and being instantly dismissive of the request. This might make it look like we are trying to avoid doing extra work, as opposed to doing what is right for the project. Of course, we know this isn’t the truth, but we need to stop and think about how we are perceived.

In addition to this, by saying it in this manner we could appear to be expressing a generic opinion, instead of stating facts that are relevant to the project at hand.

Restore to factory settings

We all need to press the reset button once in a while. When the request comes in, treat it as if you have never heard about The Fold before. How would you react?

For me, I would respond with questions of my own. What about mobile devices? What about readability? Are we going to compromise brand guidelines?

These are also quite generic, so always look for project specific reasoning to begin with. For example, “The feature list is very important, and perhaps reducing the size of the icons would de-emphasise the message?” or “If we make the buttons smaller, then will they become harder to press for tablet users?”.

If this doesn’t persuade, then perhaps share some research with them. If you are looking for an article backed up by real data, you’ll find few better than this one from KissMetrics.

Educate your peers

Of course, the best way to solve this problem is to extinguish it at the source. Perhaps you know someone that hasn’t updated their training slides for a while? Do them a huge favour.

And finally, perhaps the best way to solve the problem is to forget about it altogether. So, without further ado I invite you to please stare into the red light…