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Evolving user behaviour leads to change in web design

by  David Dwyer on  14/03/2014    2133 Reads

Why users aren't as obsessed with above the fold thinking as you are

There’s no doubt that the Internet has changed our daily lives. When’s the last time you listened to a cinema answerphone message for show times, or walked into a travel agent’s office to buy a plane ticket?
 
But it’s also now clear that way we use the Internet itself is changing. The rise of the smartphone, superfast broadband and tablet computing have all given web designers a chance to rethink how they do business. 
 
In the early days of the Internet, websites were designed much like newspapers, with the most important information front and centre – or what’s called ‘above the fold’. Poor connection speeds as well as relatively primitive technology meant that designers were keen to get as much information onto each page as possible. Too much ‘white space’ – which designers now value to let their work breathe – was a no-no. Early webpages were text-heavy, rarely interactive and designed for a fairly standard screen size. It was generally assumed that users suffered from a fear of scrolling: if information wasn’t right before their very eyes, it didn’t exist. Designers didn’t believe users would venture deep into the digital no-man’s land that lay beyond the bottom of the screen.
 
Modern web design is at once simpler and more complicated. The rise of ‘responsive’ design means that two approaches can be taken. The first is to lay out a website very carefully, craft it for different screen sizes and ensure that it takes account of the nature of the device it’s being viewed on as well as the user’s geographic location and likely intent. The second approach is the quickest and dirtiest: to allow individual browsers to reassemble a website to fit particular screen shapes.
 
Better connection speeds also mean that users are happy to scroll their hearts out for as long as it takes to get the information they need, without fear of being disconnected half-way though. Better connection speeds also mean that the information on these long pages loads much more quickly.
 
In fact, there seems to be almost no limit to how long a designer can make a page. I say almost because Firefox recently applied a test that had a browser page fail after 18.939583 kilometres. We’re now in the era of the (almost) ‘infinite scroll’. Anyone who’s ever read a particularly epic Wikipedia entry will know what I mean. 
 
Another good example can be seen on a site we’ve recently redeveloped: http://www.lorettascollections.com/clothes/mother-of-the-bride-groom. Here you'll see new products load as you scroll down the page. This approach has the benefit (for our clients) of removing the hated pagination links (‘Next 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9); it also benefits the user by auto-loading the page with new information as he or she continues to scroll down the page.
 
Today’s users are much happier in general to navigate around a website, whether that’s by scrolling or using links; touch screen and ‘flick’ technology have both played their part in helping to make website navigation as natural as turning a page in a book. With new devices and better features, web designers are upping their game considerably to improve site usability. 
 
In modern responsive web design, there’s no more ‘above’ or ‘below’ the fold. It’s all now front-page news.
 
David Dwyer is Managing Director of Inspire Web Development. He has years of experience in a range of web and IT roles plus seven years in sales and marketing in a blue-chip FMCG company. David’s academic and professional qualifications include a BA (Hons) in Business Economics (Personnel & Ergonomics) from the University of Paisley, an MSc in Information Technology (Systems) from Heriot-Watt University and PRINCE2 Practitioner-level certification. He is also an active member of the British Computer Society, Entrepreneurial Exchange and Business for Scotland.
 
Follow Inspire on Twitter @inspireltd and @developersos
 
Responsive Web Design, The Evolving Web, Web Design
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