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Saturday, February 9, 2013

RANT: The Above The Fold myth rebunked

Last week I read an article that left me scratching my head in wonder. It made me ask myself existential questions and wonder if I've been living under a rock for the last 32 years.

First of all, what is this above the fold?. Well, it's basically the first thing that you see when you open a website, the index page, the face of the website. The name comes from the printed paper industry and refers to the headlines shown in the first half of the paper cover, the part that is always visible even with the paper folded.

The author implies that it is not necessary to put your most important content and call to action in front of the users, and that users have gotten used to scrolling web pages in the last 20 years. The scrolling part is entirely true. Yes, we have evolved. Yes, we are scrolling. But do we like it? The answer is no. Anyone would rather have the things they are looking for right in front of them. We all want what's easy for us.

No, I'm not lazy if that's what you're asking yourself, I'm practical. I don't want to waste time on a website scrolling and looking for the thing that I need instead of having it in front of my eyes. The author of the above mentioned article wants you to believe that your visitor is smart enough to scroll down and find the product or whatever you're selling by himself, but the truth is, nobody wants to do that. I do it all the time, and I hate it. The author presents a best case scenario, that is likely to happen in 5% of the cases at most. Anyone in their right mind should be looking at the 5% visitors that define the worst case scenario, the scenario when someone opens up your webpage, sees nothing of interest and leaves immediately. If you can convince these 5%, you've got it. The truth is you can't convince these 5% so easily, but you can damn well try. In order to try you need to show those visitors as much as you can in a small window of time and pixel space.

So you're gonna wonder why the hell am I reading this article here, on a technology blog? Well, because it's all about technology.

In my 10 years as a developer and user interface designer I've tried to put the most important features right in front of the users, so they won't have to look hard for them. No too many, but not too few. You have to find the balance. We, the developers, we have issues, problems. People think that we're weird, crazy, geeks. They think we know little about usability, which is false. We work with multiple platforms and encounter countless issues that most people are not aware of, until they encounter such issues. As a developer, I have to think about every potential user of an application that I develop, be it desktop, web or mobile. When developing desktop apps, things are simple. You design the app to look well on the smallest resolution and that's it. But when it comes to web, we have a whole different matter. Not only is a website restricted by the same issues that a desktop app has(resolution), but it's also restricted by the devices it can be seen from. A website can be accessed from mobile phones, from tablets, where screen estate is a premium.

My point is this: how easy is it for a visitor of your website to reach your desired call to action if it's positioned in the second screen of your website? There are three answers here:
1) For desktop browsers: easy enough(by scrolling) but confusing(why wouldn't a main action be in the first page?)
2) For tablets, hard. You first have to zoom in to read the text, and then scroll down to see the action(and we all hate scrolling down on mobile devices don't we?)
3) For mobile phones, hardest. Besides the zooming in for a decent read, you have to scroll endlessly down for the action.

So IMHO, the industry is not trending towards more and more scrolling, but towards an easier to access important information on a small screen. Just take a look at Apple's website. Everything they want to sell is on the top row. The second row of information consists in the latest devices they rolled out, still about sales. They don't even have a second screen to scroll to. Next example is Google's website. First row, is all you can get from Google, while the second row is the actual search. No fuss, no blazing graphics. All you need is simply before your eyes. Next, let's get a negative example, Yahoo. On their website you got links all over the place: left, right, top, bottom, we've even got tabs within tabs. Do I need to tell you that Apple and Google are making billions while Yahoo is drifting?

P.S. I wonder how many more comments are in the quoted article that never saw the light of day.