To scroll or not to scroll
Aug 18, 2011
Within the web design community, there have been many discussions about the “scroll line,” the “fold,” the “scroll fold line” or whatever you want to call it. If you’re not familiar with this raging debate, consider yourself “not a nerd.” To help clarify this discussion, I will try and define the “fold.” The “fold” means everything that is initially viewable on a webpage. So when a user lands on a page, the “fold” represents everything that is seen, sans scrolling. So everything above the “fold” is prime real estate because it is viewed by the user when they first hit the page. Hopefully that provides a clear summary for the non-nerd audience out there.
With the definition out of the way, let’s discuss where the “fold” resides. Now this is where it gets tricky. There are multiple desktop resolutions out in the wild. The standard is the famous/infamous 1024×768 resolution that has a fold of about 600 pixels. Which is great, problem solved! Everyone has a simple 600 pixel fold! Well, not really. The issue is slightly more complicated than that. Technology can be a tricky thing. Different browsers and Operating Systems handle resolution in different ways. So one person that has a 1024 screen resolution may show a different fold than another user. Crazy huh?
There are many things web designers must take into consideration: “Fold” line appearance in different browsers and operating systems. Browser chrome and the affect scrollbars and “back” buttons play on screen space. Now compound these considerations with yet another factor the resolution doesn’t take into account: user habits. Most of us don’t display the browser at full screen. We reduce the browser chrome to a much smaller state. So this makes the “fold” random, something the creators of the site can’t be held accountable for. And that is just the half of it! There is an ocean of devices out there that are interweb friendly. There is mobile, tablet, desktop, refrigerators (I’m not kidding you) and televisions, to name a few. These internet-enabled devices keep growing. Pretty soon you will be able to check your Gmail via the toilet.
My point is the “fold” isn’t universal and there are tons of “folds” out there. So, what can we do? Should we throw out the concept of the scroll line? Well the importance of the “fold” is a factor, so let’s discuss this position. There have been many studies that show “Users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold.” These studies shows the importance of scrolling behaviors. By tracking eye path patterns we are able to peer into the world of user habits and use this research to better our websites. I could dive in deeper and discuss the importance of the “fold” more, but just take my word, it is important.
Since the scroll line varies from device to device, what can you do to make sure users see the site’s most valuable content? Analytics. If I am creating or refreshing a site, I will check the analytics of the site. The analytics give me tons of valuable information. One thing the analytics provide is the most common screen resolutions of visitors to the site. It gives me a starting percentage I can base my assumptions on and helps direct the creative. If you are starting a site from scratch, general stats. They can help dictate where the important info should reside. Take it from a web design nerd, these methods will help you use the screen space to accomplish your business goals. Now go forth and create with confidence in the “fold” line’s position. Well, not its exact position, but confidence in its general position within a particular device resolution!