Beware the fold – Designing for netbooks

By Matt Cornock

Web designers need to be more aware of the popularity of netbooks as cheap, low-tech, laptop notebooks. This popularity has suggested that a significant proportion of web users are quite happy with low-power processing (hence longer battery life) in order they can check their email and favourite websites on the move. This has spelt an end, or if not an end then a fork, in the ever increasing screensize theory.

My netbook is the very practical Samsung NC-10, it has 93% size keys which means you can still type easily and it has a useful screen resolution of 1024 pixels wide, by only 600 pixels high. Whilst more web sites are being designed for the latest desktop or standard size laptop user, modern web designers and web developers need to bring more attention to the new method of internet browsing: browsing mobile with a device no larger than a small book.

But why the fuss about small screens? Surely users web browsers have scroll bars?! True, they do, however web users will take about 4 to 8 seconds to decide if a website is worth their time to continue reading. One thing they won’t do will be to scroll down the page, just incase something really amazing is lurking ‘below the fold’. Below the fold means below the first screen’s worth of content. Think of an old broadsheet newspaper, stacked in newsagents racks, folded in half. On the top half will be the main story, but also columns on either side with other tempting mini-headlines and news. They use their limited viewable space on a rack to show the full range of content on offer. Compare this with the tabloid which has one, over-size headline and an image, designed to sell for that one day on that one story.

Websites won’t thrive if they can’t show all the best bits they have to offer within the first 600px instead of the first 1200px. A good example is wired.com. They’ve incorporated the multiple headline idea into their header which means their main, current content is instantly available to netbook users. A lot of websites now just use a whopping great big image within the first 600px of their page, this space is greatly wasted for netbook users. No guessing that most of these sites are corporate type, consultancies or what I call ‘flashy leaflet sites’ (sites with lots of sparkle but not much unique content going on, like the stuff that comes through your door on 180gsm gloss paper).

This site does have an image, it’s only 100px of ‘wasted’ space, the main links and the title of the first and usually second headlines are available above the fold.

Keeping the first 600px active, interesting and relevant is key to gaining return visitors.

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