Web Design News 30/03/10

This week: Does the fold matter after all, 5 quick ways to improve your sites usability, how to blog when you’re not a writer and ensure your projects run smoothly.

Does the fold matter after all?

It is with much fear and trepidation that I include this story. Many website owners are obsessed with this mythical element called the fold (the point at which users start to scroll). As a result they often insist that content is crammed as near to the top of a page as possible.

Of course in reality there is no such thing as the fold. The point where scrolling begins varies massively depending on browser, screen resolution and plugins installed. Also, if you insist that too much content is above the fold, it will do more harm than good.

That is why generally speaking I have encouraged clients to ignore the fold. However, although users do scroll and so in a sense the fold is redundant, we do know they give more attention to content higher on the page.

Jakob Nielsen reinforced this fact in a recent post entitled Scrolling and Attention. He writes…

Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold.

Eye Tracking image from Nielen's post

So in truth we should be looking to allocate important information as high on the page as possible. However, that does not mean cramming all information above the fold. Instead we should follow Nielsen’s advice…

The material that’s the most important for the users’ goals or your business goals should be above the fold.

This doesn’t mean the rest of your content will be ignored. As Nielsen goes on to say…

People will look very far down a page if (a) the layout encourages scanning, and (b) the initially viewable information makes them believe that it will be worth their time to scroll.

Essentially the content above the fold has to draw the user in and encourage them to scroll.

5 quick and easy ways to improve your sites usability

So recently we had Steve Krug on the show talking about how we should all be user testing our websites more.

This is something that we all know but often fail to do. Part of the problem is that we are simply not in the habit of thinking about usability enough.

Well this week I stumbled across a post that shares 5 quick and easy ways of improving your website’s usability, while getting in the habit of thinking about usability.

All 5 suggestions are excellent. However, the one I particularly wanted to mention was a service called the 5 Second Test. As the post explains…

It allows you to create two different user tests by uploading a screenshot of your webpage. The first test is a memory test: users get 5 seconds to have a look at your screenshot and need to describe afterwards what they remembered. In the second test, the user can click on the screenshot for a period of 5 seconds and can give a descriptive text on each point.

The results are shown in a handy heatmap-like overview which can be downloaded for further analyses. It is free and you can share these tests with your twitter friends.


What is so great about this service is that it provides an excellent way to establish if your design has the right visual hierarchy. Do users spot key elements and do they understand what those elements do?

Blogging when you’re not a writer

I have written a fair amount about the challenges of blogging (1)(2). However a recent article on pro blogger has identified another reason why so few corporate blogs succeeded… people are afraid of writing.


Image Source

Running a corporate blog can be an excellent way of increasing search engine visibility, attracting new customers and engaging existing users. However, many are put off because they feel they cannot write.

This post provides some excellent advice about on to start writing, and even how to blog without writing at all!

The author talks about how to structure posts, how to proof them and also looks at the use of imagery and video. It really is an encouraging place to start if you feel intimidated by blogging but want to try.

There is also some great additional advice in the comments too, so make sure you check them out as well.

Ensure your projects run smoothly

Simon Collison has written a superb series of posts on ensuring projects run smoothly.

There are nine posts in total covering…

  • Goal directed design
  • Collaboration
  • Audience
  • Methodologies
  • Roadmaps
  • Creativity
  • Conventions
  • Prototyping
  • Narrative

I have to confess I have yet to read all nine, but what I have read is absolutely spot on. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

My favourite so far has been the post on collaboration with your client. This is essentially what I was talking about this year at SXSW. He obviously takes a very similar approach. He writes…

I wholly believe that our processes should be inclusive, and that all members of a team can influence all aspects of the design and build of a product.

One of my most stringent rules as a creative director is that anyone, anywhere in the team can feel free to add value. They all have brains and common sense. Anyone, at any stage can contribute an idea, pose a question, throw a spanner in the works.

Amen to that. Best of all, he goes on to say he considers the client apart of that team…

I believe that the client team has an incredible amount to contribute. It’s easy to dismiss those new to the web who may be commissioning the project as “clueless technophobes”…

The danger is to dismiss the insight they can give you with regard to the organisation itself. The client can educate us about their sector, area, community or their place within it. Our job is to listen, discuss, and interpret this knowledge for a web audience.

client, designer and developer working together

I really could just quote from these posts all day, they are that good.

I know nine posts feels like a lot of information to read. However, I cannot recommend this series strongly enough. He should be packaging these as an ebook and selling it for an outrageous price.

  • Nielsen’s work on the fold is interesting. I wrote an article recently which came to similar conclusions (users can be encouraged to scroll, the amount the fold matters depends on the type of content you are offering), although no actual testing was involved.

    Have a read, it’s not long!


  • What is up with Ryan’s voice? It’s like he has his head in the Darth Vader helmet.

    • He is recording over skype. On the full show I say that we were forced to record over skype because Marcus was ill.

  • Jamie

    There is no point commenting on this as you’ll never see it way down here.

    • haha! Exactly!

      Something about Jacob Nielson doesn’t gell. Here’s a “usability expert” who’s website is anything but useable. The typography is miss-aligned and crushed against itself making it difficult to digest, as a quick example.

      That aside, a perfectly reasonable explanation for why eyeballs spend more time “above the fold” is because website owners generally put the most important content “above the fold”. Naturally users will spend more time viewing more important content. It could be argued that it’s necessary for a user to digest the initial content above the fold before knowing whether to read on.

      The three websites tested are all product-based websites. One would assume that blogs, for example, would render different results. For example, comments are listed at the bottom of the page. The Amazon example clearly shows that users spent a lot of time reading some comments at the bottom of the page.

      I’m not convinced there’s any revelations here.

  • Jai

    Paul, don’t lie. We all know that wasn’t Ryan with you. It was Optimus Prime impersonating a British guy.

    Honestly, I was laughing whenever Optimus would overpower you with his larger than life interjections.

  • How does a study create a desire for the participants to scroll and scan?

    Without a desire to purchase any of the products from the sites used in the study I can’t imagine that any of the collected data would actually be useful. The data collected in the Nielsen study seems to confirm this to me. 80% of their time spent at the top of a shopping page?! Anyone who has made an online purchase knows this doesn’t sound right. Not at all.

    As Bill commented, a user typically will review the content above the fold and then decide if there is enough interest to review the remaining content.

    A more interesting approach to the study might be to give the participants 1-2k to purchase a couch (using the JC Penney site from the study as an example) and a list of several sites to make their purchase. This would help create a desire for the product and in effect show whether a real person, not just a random study participant, would scroll or not.

    I’m pretty sure the revised approach would result in percentages that are almost completely the opposite of the original study.

  • Another quick note:
    The study also mentions how the last item on a page usually gets a lot of attention. What is ignored on the Amazon example is that the last review is the first review that isn’t given 5-stars.