The term “above the fold” originates from the newspaper industry, denoting the upper half of the front page where the most compelling stories and photographs reside. Any content above the fold is designed to draw in the reader and, ultimately, sell the paper.
The way marketers have borrowed “the fold” in the context of digital content and design was innocent at first. “Whatever you see on the screen prior to scrolling should be the most pertinent information.” Not a bad rule of thumb. However, taking the rule too literally is neglecting the ever-evolving nature of the digital medium and the real estate it provides to tell a story.
Scrolling is not a bad thing, and consumers don’t mind doing it. They scroll to reveal fresh content in social platforms (think Facebook Newsfeed.) They scroll to browse transactions in online banking. They even scrolled back in the 90’s when absurdly long chain emails were a cool thing. (Don’t be ashamed, we all did it.) If they find the content compelling and want to view more, they’ll go through the effort of moving their fingers to do so.
The good news
There are some smart web design trends that not only utilize space below the fold in a thoughtful way, they often rely on the user scrolling to enhance the experience. The Life of Pi movie website uses parallax scrolling to give the user a multimedia “journey.” The format is fun and visually intriguing, as is the content. But that’s not to say that this type of interface lacks function. Parallax scrolling also has practical, navigable applications on sites with more serious subject matter — check out my alma mater’s website.
Even in the absence of what some may deem “gimmick-y” scrolling features, websites like Whole Foods are abandoning their fear of the fold. This site offers the reader plenty of rich content without ever having to leave the home page. The navigation bar is there if the user wants it, but scrolling is equally or more efficient at helping them find the “important stuff.”
Digital interface design should lend some consideration to the fold, but shouldn’t let the rules run the show. Getting a navigation bar and call to action near the top of the page is never a bad idea. But thinking about the possibilities of what could lie below the fold makes for a much more engaged and enriching user experience.