Each point and evolution of the human has a relation to a previously experienced event, and as such we are still comparing the web to the likes of print media. This misconception is often buried in the fact that everyday web use is for things like the news and finding local business for very specific needs. Nevertheless, the Web is a very, very different monster altogether. A newspaper or magazine is much more tactile and visible. The front page of a newspaper is usually folded in half when displayed on the racks at news stands or service stations, and so the top half of the page is very important to capture attention to that particular publication. Hence, came the idea of ‘above the fold’.
The idea, however, is archaic and not as relevant in today’s computer centric society. Especially with the advent of pages like Facebook, scrolling is become something some people do on reflex. Typically a designer (who I cannot stress enough that they know what they are doing) will build your website with that in mind; what is above the fold will capture attention, though not necessarily force people to look at all your services at once through cramming everything into a smaller resolution. Scrolling is minimal effort, and so on whatever website you go to, if what appears doesn’t interest you, you will go away, and nothing more repulses the end user these days than cramped information, shoved into every space imaginable.
Essentially it is like asking a builder to build a very small house, so that it can fit on the smallest of properties just in case, but it needs to be one storey, have all the mod-cons and four bedrooms. It’s a tad unreasonable, but understandable since the Web is such a new concept. Many people have trouble wrapping their head around how it will translate to sales for their business, which is the primary directive. It is too subjective to nail into a formula, but with all sorts of psychology involved, designers are able to incite curiosity and the desire to scroll to see more.
Spacing in design is one of the most important factors of presentation; and almost as important as good typography. It is also a very hard concept to get one’s head around. Even myself, I find, that it is hard to find a good balance with spacing, and it is often a matter of “seeing if it just fits“. When it does, though, it’s not a good idea to disrupt that by pulling things together to fit into a smaller space. Often this means, that in the hope of preserving the spacing of the website elements, the actual boxes and lines of text themselves are reduced (which even then can throw out the spacing). It’s not only hell for designers, but it can be impossible to physically fit the required information attractively into a small space, which can ultimately drive visitors away.
These days designs, in certain circumstances, will focus around the wow factor, which can even involve no text at all. Just like Pixar make movies with minimal dialogue, and yet still convey a beautiful message (like this), certain web design methods can use only the colours, shapes and images to grab and hold the attention of a visitor; the text always comes last. This is where the psychology of spacing comes in; if someone comes across a design, and instantly their brain takes in every element and finds it pleasing, it means the spacing is correct. Cramped, or too much spacing in design can result in jarring aesthetics. It all comes down to the immediate instinctive reaction of an average punter coming across your website.
I once saw a client to give some training on their website CMS, and instead of all the nice monitors I saw around their office, I was given a small 13-inch laptop to train them on. Apart from that, they were using an older version of internet explorer, leaden with Norton toolbars, Google and Ask bars, which reduced the website to nearly a third of the screen real estate. While this is an isolated sort of case, and is slowly being eradicated with older computers going out of commission, it highlights the highly subjective, and sometimes narrow minded nature of design.
Personally, I design on 2 27-inch LCD panels. I know that normally most people don’t have the wall of light that I do, but in every design I will do research on latest trends in monitor sizes. There are general practices I abide by in the vertical size of a page, dependant on the type of website I am building, and the client’s industry. It’s never really a case of, “Oh, hey, this looks cool!” It’s a very calculated assessment of many factors. Nevertheless, it can be jarring to find that a browser or monitor doesn’t render the colours properly, or something like that.
We don’t get it right every time, but we do advise against trying to cram everything above the fold when someone else may see half a page of white, or have an even smaller screen than you. We try to cater for the averages, and in such a variable industry, that is hard and never entirely future proof.
Really it means that leaving the design up to the designer is the best solution. We consider every angle, and then some – especially when provided with feedback. While we try and bend over backward to please you as a client, it can often result that we will advise against certain things. It’s not because we simply know best about everything, but this is our industry and we do this daily. If you don’t like a font, or the way something looks, that is great; we love feedback, but the moral is always to heed the advice of the professionals, rather than get caught up into old ideas and associations.
The Web is a weird and wonderful, and ever changing world these days, and it’s the prime place for embracing change. It embodies progress, and is entirely an entity of its own.
You never know, webpages probably will want to vote next.