As far as media goes, the field of web design is relatively new, but it’s old enough to have evolved quite substantially in its lifetime. Like anything that evolves, old impressions and stigmas die hard. In the case of web design, one notion, inherited from print, seemingly refuses to die: The myth of “above the fold.”
Here’s a quick primer in case you’re not familiar with the phrase (though to be honest I’d prefer you click away now, and not even expose yourself to this obsolete terminology): Newspapers were frequently sold at display stands, and to that end, their only way to advertise themselves was to have striking typography, images and stories on the top half of their front page – the area above the fold. As the web came into use, many folks in media were tasked with designing for this new medium. The idea of “above the fold” carried over, but for the web, the idea referred to the part of the site that was visible without having to scroll.
When the web was young and connections were slow, this “above the fold” area did carry a lot of weight. Pages often took a while to appear on your screen, so the content that was easiest to see often determined if someone was going to stick around and wait for the rest of the page to load, or to dive deeper into the site. However, the web has evolved, connection speeds have changed, comfort with the medium has grown, and thus, usage patterns have changed. Now, the primary purpose of the page “above the fold” is to help confirm for the user that they’re in the right place, create a great impression, and encourage engagement.
These days, users are more than happy to scroll – it’s expected, and has been noticeably embraced by pretty much all major websites – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Amazon, and so on. All of these companies make or lose millions based on their users’ engagement, and you can rest assured they’ve taken the time to research how scrolling effects their users’ behaviors, and subsequently, their revenue.
Even if you don’t buy into the fact that these companies know what’s best, I’m happy top provide a number of other resources as we walk through other technologies which have evolved, but still have similar sayings that have managed to cement themselves into common parlance.
1) Hang up the phone.
The only chance you’ve actually hung up a phone in the last year is if 1, you have an old school phone system in your office, or you were visiting the old phone museum in Ellsworth, Maine. You just “end call” now. I would argue that this phrase is more current than “above the fold” is to web design, because at least these devices still exist, whereas the thoughts of users not scrolling has been dis-proven time and again, and again, and again, and again. I can keep going if you need me to.
2) Roll down the window.
This one is pretty similar to the last, in so much that while yes, cars with manually rollable windows still exist. But when was the last time you sat in one? You don’t have to roll down a window any more, you press the button and open it, or close it. It slides up, and down with the press of a button. Much like your users will scroll up, and down, with the press of a button. Do you need more proof that they will? Like this? Or this?
3) Let’s tape this show.
I’ve found most people 20 and younger don’t really even know what a VCR is. The last time I fired up the ol’ VCR was for a nostalgic chuckle. (Full disclosure, I wanted to show my wife the Brave Little Toaster, an animated cinematic classic which she had somehow missed. And, when the VCR and tape failed to work, it turns out I could have saved some time and pulled it up YouTube the whole time.) And a nostalgic chuckle is what design folks have after the meeting in which anyone seriously mentions “above the fold”.
4) Hold your horses.
This phrase harkens back to the days of chariots and horses champing at the bit (yes, proper use of that phrase is champing, not chomping at the bit) and raring to go. If you hold your horses, you keep them from running away, and taking you with them. Of course, there are still many equestrians today which makes this phrase both literally and figuratively more applicable than the archaic notion of “above the fold” as it pertains to the web.
5) Toot your own horn.
While I certainly can’t break this phrase down any better than Mike Pesca, he makes a valid point. This phrase originally referred to the horns that would blow to announce the arrival of royalty. Of course if you were someone who was a bit pompous, you may attempt to announce your own entrance assuming you were deserving the treatment of royalty, and would therefore “toot your own horn” to announce your arrival. Admittedly, I consider this phrase about on par with “above the fold” when it comes to their obsolescence.
6) Fax anything.
If you still fax, please don’t admit to it. That’s one of those things you keep to yourself, like the fact that you wet the bed well into your teenage years, or you’ll likely be ostracized and outcast. Faxing is the final item on this list because it is the perfect parallel to “above the fold”. It had a day where it was valid, even ground breaking, but those days are decades gone and these are the relics of that time and should be treated as such.
If you still feel like “above the fold” is an applicable parallel to draw, then make your argument known in the comments below. My guess is you’ll find that section below this post barren and desolate. As it should be.