Not for the first time, the web design industry has borrowed a term from print designers. 'Above the fold' has always referred to content placed in the top half of a broad sheet newspaper. These are of course delivered and displayed folded in half. All the enticing content is placed 'Above the fold' for maximum exposure. The term has fallen into usage amongst web designers to refer to content that is visible full-screen without scrolling. It's not a fixed rule, but with user 'click reflexes' so unforgiving, it can be prudent to ensure that all your important messages are available onscreen with the user journey or options clearly sign-posted.
If you operate in a competitive market your website only has seconds to make an impact. Why force the user to scroll to search for information; hand it to them! -As long as the content and design can accommodate it without looking too cluttered. Buttons do not need to be gigantic, and the home page at least should not be text heavy. We're afraid to say that Rule #2 after 'You have seven seconds to make an impact.' is 'People don't read anything'. Copy needs to be pithy, relevant and well written.
We are seeing a new design trend in layout ratios. Rather than tall and thin, lots of re-brands are featuring sites which are landscape-orientated. Increasingly users are switching to widescreen monitors and these can accommodate nice big juicy horizontal designs. And there is always the option to serve up scrolling internal pages full of information - but don't pad it out for the sake of it. If it doesn't serve a function, don't put it in!
The new home page from Invest NI is a good example of really clean and easily navigable design. MOH