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When it comes to bank website design, don’t fear the fold

3/30/12

Blame it on newspapers, which made a tradition of showcasing the best content on the top half of the front page to entice passersby to make a purchase.

Old habits are hard to break. Even as the print medium steps aside for the steamroller that is digital media, that old notion of “get it above the fold” prevails.

When discussing new bank website design and existing site revisions with clients, a common request we hear is bring as much content up above the fold as possible in order to save visitors from performing the onerous task of scrolling down to find what he or she is looking for.

In extreme cases, clients might ask us to make sure nothing falls below the fold. However, there are a few problems with this line of thinking:

  • Ferreting out the fold — A website’s homepage might serve a similar purpose to page A1 of a newspaper, but the big difference is that while every issue of a periodical has the same dimensions, the same cannot be said for websites. Monitors come in many different shapes and sizes, and even as the average screen resolution continually evolves, any individual can adjust the page view by zooming in or out. One man’s fold could be another man’s footer.
  • Scrolling is easy — Designing a website to be as user-friendly as possible is commendable. This proverb comes in handy when examining usability: If you have to explain how something works, it doesn’t work well enough. And yet scrolling is no chore. Visitors can explore the territory south of the so-called fold by using arrow keys, manually moving the browser’s scrollbar or using a mouse’s scroll wheel. It’s even easier on a screen with touch technology. Moreover, people expect to scroll on a website.
  • Fold phobia leads to other ailments — Now, newspapers aren’t wrong to put the most important words and images above the fold on the front page. And web designers should put the most useful, most used text, graphics and links front and center. But as with most things, there is a balance. Cramming every entry point and iota of information in the space of a single screen is more likely to overwhelm a visitor with options, which is far more annoying than scrolling down a few more inches.

Attempting to annihilate the fold is even less practical on the mobile web. Smart phones’ screens are just too small.

Even if the fold is more myth than menace, it admittedly can present problems on occasion. Designers must be mindful of where any given screen might cut off. For instance, if there are a few inches of uninhabited horizontal space between elements, it could happen to fall at the bottom of someone’s screen, which might end up looking like the bottom of a page. In which case, it might not occur to the visitor to scroll down to find more options. A good designer lays out a page so that the content flows naturally and doesn’t create an artificial fold.

Scrolling happens. It’s an inevitable operation while browsing. And that’s OK. But if you’re still scared of scrolling, face your fears head on here: www.thereisnopagefold.com.

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