Are carousels that bad really?

I want to challenge current web industry thinking concerning carousels/sliders/galleries (which is – in a nutshell – theyโ€™re bad) with what, seemingly, most of the world thinks of them.

But they are bad though, aren’t they?

I’ve not been a big fan and have provided arguments to clients as to why they shouldn’t use them on their websites.

Carousels can be seen by website owners or marketing departments as a panacea to keep everyone in the organisation happy. I.e. they provide website managers with a way of not saying no to department heads when they demand that their content – whatever it is – is on the homepage.

I have even made this point to clients saying “this isn’t the kind of reason you want to include something on your new site is it?”

Also, based on the following, users are blind to carousels, they do not interact with them, and are positively annoyed by those that animate.

So, according to all this, carousels are distracting, people don’t interact with them and why hide content if it’s important.

But, I’m left thinking are those references still relevant? (and were they accurate in the first place and not just something that fitted my agenda nicely?)

Why is internal politics not a thing?

Internal politics is a reality and if a carousel can provide a method to ‘hide’ content that shouldn’t really be on a page, then that’s great surely?

It’s a legitimate reason to have a carousel, not something I should be using to try and persuade clients they don’t need one.

Sure, having a carousel that distracts users from high priority business goals in favour of internal politics would be bad. But, it doesn’t make it wrong to have a carousel at all.

Convention

With their prevalence on sites for the last few years, I think there’s a case to make for users understanding carousels and even expecting them.

  • “Ah, I’m on an ecommerce site, this is where I’ll find the latest offers.”
  • “Ah, I’m on a company website, this is where I’ll find the latest news.”
  • “Ah, I’m on a tourism site, this is where I’ll find all the lovely photos.”
  • “Where’s the spinny/swoopy thing? I love them.”

Ok, maybe not the last one.

But you see what I mean? What if the prevalence of carousels has made users expect them to be there on certain sites? If that’s true, then are we delivering poor UX if we don’t include them?

Pretty pictures

Using the tourism site example above as an… er, example, let’s try and test that theory.

Let’s say I’m thinking about going on a once in a lifetime holiday to New Zealand. I’m going to be a sword-wielding hobbit in jaw-dropping terrain… or something like that ๐Ÿ™‚

I would no doubt carry out some research online, and I would certainly want to see some pictures of the wonderful scenery.

I could visit a site that has a big gallery of gorgeous images but a) I’d probably have to link to that gallery from the homepage and/or b) scroll down the page to see all the images.

None of which is a big deal, but it’s more effort than going to a homepage, sitting back, and watching the lovely images presented to me one after the other.

The point is, in this scenario, having an animating carousel is better than not having one.

Yes, but…

Performance and accessiblity are still big concerns, right?

If many large, uncompressed images can be uploaded to a carousel then yes, you will have a performance problem. But, if we do our jobs well and provide training on how to compress imagery, or even better, provide CMS tools that do the job for our clients, then surely that problem goes away.

Accessibility is another concern which also falls upon us to resolve. The bottom line is: ensure the content can be accessed without Javascript and make sure users have control over what they’re seeing. That is, provide pause/play and forward/back options.

Clients are ‘standard’ users

Carousels can easily fit into a “not absolutely required” category so they’re then seen as frivolous decoration that don’t fit with best practice design principles. But, are we just being design snobs?

People outside our industry may rather like the big images and ‘wooshiness’ of them. And our clients are, for the most part, outside our industry so it’s no surprise they’re often requested.

I’m not suggesting that we should blindly accept all requests for carousels from our clients, rather that we shouldn’t dismiss them as quickly as we have been. There are cases, it seems to me, where they make sense.

  • We recently added image sliders to our own site. I’m definitely against them from the point-of-view of “just to get everything into the page” which is usually an afterthought or cheap fix. I was hesitant even though our use case, which is about exploring different areas of a service, is different.

    There can be up to 5 full width responsive carousels on a page. There are a few dozen of these pages. We introduced vertical lazy loading as well as lazy loading horizontally in each carousel. With tracking in place we found that they are used and used a lot. A lot more than we expected! Now whether that increases the likelihood of a conversion, we’ve yet to really hammer out. We’ll also test having videos in these carousels in the near future too.

    It really comes down to the right tool for the right job, as always ๐Ÿ™‚

Headscape