Above the Fold: Does It Still Matter?
About 2 min reading time
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The day Facebook announced the new news feed design, I brought it to attention in my UI Design and Development course (which was, sadly, not nearly as great as the title suggests), hoping we could have some meaningful conversation about it. Unfortunately, my professor's first statement was a nonchalant, "what about it?". Not exactly words to start a conversation.
In the brief talk that did follow, my professor pointed out that with photos being larger, content is pushed further down the page than in the old design. In the world of web design, having content "above the fold" is a bit of a rule. The idea is that users shouldn't have to scroll to start seeing the content they came for. Scrolling, albeit a simple thing, is a barrier of entry to getting users to the delicious content that awaits them further down the page. You want them to be hooked as early as possible so they have a reason to scroll. But does this really apply to "news feed" environments?
While it's true that fewer status updates and stories are visible at a time, they look better and are easier to consume. Does it matter if they're further down the page? I tried to raise this point to my professor, but he simply repeated the "above the fold" adage as defense. But by nature of being a feed, and as a user who understands what that is, haven't I already established a reason to scroll?
A feed is meant to be consumed in order. Whether that be in time, relevance, popularity, or some other order, each entry is its own entity competing for my attention. If that much is true, shouldn't each entry be given ample space to capture my attention? Cramming more and more entries "above the fold" in a feed environment just leads to noise.
Take Pinterest for example. Its feed is dense. A bunch of columns crammed into the space with semi-standard alignments. I think my professor would argue the Pinterest feed is of a superior design because there's more content above the fold. Ignore the fact that I can't discern the order of the entries, there's more there and that's clearly better.
That's not to say Pinterest's feed is terrible, it's just different. The point I'm trying to make is: do the old web design adages apply to modern website use? When the "above the fold" rule first came around, websites were primarily text, and screen resolutions were low. Today, content varies dramatically and screen resolution varies across an ever-increasing slew of devices. What is considered "above the fold" anymore? Most importantly: does that matter at all?
My belief is that it depends on the content, first and foremost. If you're writing articles about something, you absolutely need some piece of that article visible when the user first visits. If you have a "news feed" of content, I'd argue that the amount of content above the folder doesn't matter. All that matters is that you establish a context for your content. The user should be able to decide whether or not they want to consume the content and be able to make that decision quickly.
With any luck, my future professors will take a more modern look at these old "rules", or at least consider what my fellow classmates and I have to say about them. Otherwise, I'll have a host of arguments ahead of me.