Jason Anderson
Jason Anderson 10 February 2017

No-one scrolls on the web. If it were 1996...

"Everything must be above the fold!", "All important stuff should be in the top 20% of your content!", "Design the website like it was a Powerpoint deck!" Sound familiar?

Every designer and coder has heard these comments a thousand times. It was all about “the fold”, a term invented by newspaper printers to describe the physical half-way fold of the newspaper on the newsagent rack – the sensible idea being to put your headline and top story “above the fold” to make sure people see it on the rack. Made sense.

Back in the 90’s and early 00’s this made some kind of sense on websites, too. People were not used to scrolling as dialogue boxes, CD-ROM multimedia shows and HyperCard stacks all worked in a way that prevented scrolling. Touch pads, mice with scroll wheels and touch-based mobile phones didn’t exist. So users were very much used to click, click, click; scrolling simply wasn’t in their lexicon.

Fast-forward to today and the situation has changed. We’re largely mobile-first, use touch pads constantly and use scrolling social media sites every day.

We don’t even have “a fold” online anymore…

There are such a huge variety of screen sizes, orientations, pixel densities and the like that crafting any meaningful sense of “the fold” is a task that’d keep you busy for the rest of your life. Luke Wroblewski (http://www.lukew.com [he’s very big in digital product design, if you don’t know him] looked at the screensizes of Android mobiles phones for 6 months and found nearly 4000 of them.

Add to this the number of different laptop screen sizes, different resolutions on desktops, huge differences in tablet screen sizes and orientations, the fact that browser windows can be any size and you’re on to a losing game if you think the fold is your friend.

My fold isn't your fold

So let’s not continue to think about the fold as a physical thing that must be adhered to at all times, because I can guarantee that your fold is not the same as my fold, and my fold on the train on the way home won’t be the same as my fold at the office.

Scrollbars? Huh?

With more of us now using mobiles as our primary internet device, this has exacerbated the need for scrolling to be seen as a requirement and not something to be avoided at all costs. There is no scrollbar that’s on-by-default on iPhones or Mac OS X (there hasn’t been since 2011) – this clearly shows that people are so familiar with scrolling that Apple decided they no longer even need a visual clue for it.

Experiments prove scrolling happens

Are there stats and experiment results to prove that people now scroll? Well, many of the most-used sites in the world like Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and eBay scroll an awful lot and wouldn’t be able to function without the scroll. But in case real-world examples are not enough for you, then there are plenty of other reviews and experiments to help convince you:

  • Chartbeat, a data analytics provider, analysed data from 2 billion visits and found that “66% of attention on a normal media page is spent below the fold.”
  • Heatmap service provider ClickTale analyzed almost 100,000 pageviews. The result: people used the scrollbar on 76% of the pages, with 22% being scrolled all the way to the bottom regardless of the length of the page
  • The design agency Huge measured scrolling in a series of usability tests and found “that participants almost always scrolled, regardless of how they are cued to do so – and that’s liberating.”
  • Usability expert Jakob Nielsen’s eye-tracking studies show that while attention is focused above the fold, people do scroll down, especially if the page is designed to encourage scrolling
  • On mobile, half of the users start scrolling within 10 seconds and 90% within 14 seconds

The devil is in the detail

Of course there are subtleties, variances and audience differences that must be taken into account when designing a digital solution, which is what we at Sectorlight routinely perform. We need to craft content and layout in such a way to attract attention and to convince users to continue to remain on the page – and to scroll. That’s the skill of modern digital UX designers, copywriters and visual designers and forms the core of what we offer. But there is no need to be dangerously constrained through the fear of the mythical fold.

It was a bad dream and it’s over.

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