The latest research from the man that the New York Times calls the “guru of web page usability” offers some tips for any creative design agency working with the internet.
In his latest blog post, Jakob Nielsen makes it clear that to get the most out of complicated elements like 3D animations, they should be left above the ‘fold’ of the page (where the average user would need to scroll down to see the rest of the page).
Nielsen’s research suggests that though many users will scroll below the fold, the bulk of their attention is inevitably focused on the portion above it. His eye-tracking study – based on an average resolution of 1,024 X 768 pixels – revealed that users spent 80.3% of their time on web page above the fold and only 19.7% below.
This usability study and the accompanying eye-tracking shots reveal that for the most part, users attention wanes as they browse down the page. As Nielsen puts it, “It’s as if user’s arrive at a page with a certain amount of fuel in their tanks. As they ‘drive’ down the page they use up gas, and sooner or later they run dry. The amount of gas in the tank will vary, depending on each user’s inherent motivation and interest in each page’s specific topic.”
Nevertheless, if this disappoints any designers who fear their hard work is going unseen, two things should provide comfort. Firstly, the usability clearly shows that many users will look beyond the fold and even if simply from a site architecture POV, it makes sense to place elements and information on a single page. Secondly, things have got much better over the past decade; according to Nielsen, “during the web’s first years, users often didn’t scroll web pages at all”.
In his summary, Jakob Nielsen says that the implications for designers is that the material that’s important for your business/user goals should be above the fold.
However if you want users to spend longer on your pages, you should encourage them to scan – place important information at the bottom as well as the top and ensure that the content above the fold indicates that “it will be worth their time to scroll.”