One upon a time, there was a group of monks translating the Bible. When they came to Psalms, they wanted to make sure people read their favorites, so they put them at the top of each page. Then, one monk folded the page in half to carry and show the local bishop. He explained to the bishop that they wanted to put the best Psalms above the fold. And “the fold” was born.
Hey, it COULD have happened that way.
Here’s an even more amazing story: we’re still talking about the fold today, and the Web can’t even be folded! We say that everything has to be on that first screen. It does, doesn’t it?
Wrong. I’m here to announce that the fold is officially dead.
THE FOLD IS NOT AS IT ONCE WAS
I have two reasons to believe this.
First, the Web has evolved. And people have evolved with it. Originally, the Internet was designed for geeks like you and me. Today, everyone’s grandmas are online, and guess what? They get it.
Almost no one thinks a Web page ends when he’s hit the bottom of the screen. Every computer and mobile user knows how to scroll down with a mouse or his or her finger. That annoying moniker, “Web 2.0,” is actually a good sign. It subtly shows us that the Web has matured.
Speaking of maturity, the second reason the fold is dead is that Web design and layout have matured. With maturity comes complexity and that means the old standards have gone out the window. There’s no standard screen size. It used to be 800×600. Now most people use 1366×768, or larger on their computers and mobile users are all about scrolling and it keeps users engaged and free from unnecessary clicks.
There’s also no default browser. First, it was Netscape, then MSIE, and now Chrome is coming on strong. They all read Web pages a little differently. Heck, even the same browser on a MAC and PC looks different.
You get the picture. Even if you still choose to believe in the absolute power of the fold, it will never be where you want it to be on every single screen, no matter how crazy mad your Web skillz are.
EMBRACE THE FOLD
Now that we’re in agreement and I’ve convinced you to cross over to the dark side, let’s go deeper into the abyss.
I encourage you to design PAST the fold. It is an opportunity, where appropriate, to think about a mobile first design perspective, rather than treating mobile as an afterthought. That doesn’t mean you have to make up a bunch of lousy content so your page will be longer. It does mean that, if you know you’re likely to go longer than an average screen, provide some continuity. Make the user want to scroll down to see what’s next. Whether it’s design, text or a navigation element, give the visitor a reason to look beyond the fold. It frees us up to be true digital storytellers, using space and design in ways that intrigue users.
Think of it as the “continued on pg2” you see at the bottom of a magazine article. Sure, you wish the page was longer, but don’t you always peek at that next page anyway? While many designers will tell you to pretend your visitor is stupid, I’m going out on a limb and telling you to give them a little credit. The reality is that there’s more than one school of thought on the Web. Don’t get sucked in by any of them. Including mine.
I say do as the monks did. Use the fold as a guide to put your Psalm 23s up high. Then put your lesser psalms below it. No one’s going to stop reading halfway through a psalm. Keeping the bishop and your favorite serfs happy is a good way to make sure you survive the Dark Ages.