One of the things we often hear from clients is that they want to put the most important information on their home page “above the fold.” While this term finds its roots in the layout of newspapers, it has garnered certain favour in the web world, especially after usability expert Jakob Nielson advocated for it. On the web, above the fold means that the most critical page elements should be visible in the first screen of content, without scrolling, at the most prevalent window size (which now would be 1024 x 768). Plank always felt that this philosophy was misplaced. And now there has been a study released proving we were right.

Our friends at Webmonkey, one of the pre-eminent resources for web developers, have published the results of a study done by CXPartners, a U.K.-based design agency, that completely debunks the above the fold myth. Using sophisticated eye-tracking software, the study demonstrated that users always look at the browser’s scroll bar to check if they should scroll. And they do scroll. And an interesting fact emerges – the less you put above the fold, the better off you will be, as it will encourage users to scroll down and check out all of your content.

The study offered three broad conclusions about web design and the “fold” that web designers need to consider:

  1. Less is more — don’t be tempted to cram everything above the fold. Good use of whitespace and imagery encourages exploration.
  2. Stark, horizontal lines discourage scrolling — this doesn’t mean stop using horizontal full width elements. Have a small amount of content just visible, poking up above the fold to encourage scrolling.
  3. Avoid the use of in-page scroll bars — the browser scrollbar is an indicator of the amount of content on the page. iFrames and other elements with scroll bars in the page can break this convention and may lead to content not being seen.

You can bet that at Plank we’ll be taking those lessons to heart. Not that we didn’t do that already. But now, when a client insists that all of his good content get crammed above the fold, we’ll have the research to show that this may not be the best way.

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