Ah, the carousel slider. The thing that companies love and designers hate.
This is probably not going to make much sense straight away, but I worked in the car industry from 2015 to 2018. I worked as a Web Graphic Designer in the Marketing department of a dealership group that managed more than 25 locations, from casual Honda to luxury Porsche. By the way, in many companies, the Marketing department is essentially the Design department. That is what we were.
I still remember when my Marketing (/Design) director asked us to mockup some new layout ideas for the dealerships. This was after the big Google “go responsive or watch your company get buried in SERPs (search engine results pages)” update. That update sent corporations that hadn’t yet bowed to the responsive website gods into an oh-shit frenzy.
My colleagues and I immediately went to work thinking of ways to modernize the websites while we were at it. One of the features we definitely wanted to get rid of was the carousel slider that displayed all the promotions each dealership wanted to highlight on their front page. We did all the research stating that carousel sliders were a godawful idea, and showed all of it… to no avail. The corporation loved the trendy advertising tool too much to let it go. And once more, its dealerships were going to look like every other dealership out there.
Because, really, the thing about carousel sliders is that almost every website has one nowadays. Oh wait, not mine. I made the decision early in the designing process that I wanted to cut the crap.
The reasons carousel sliders exist are basically:
- To some, they look cool and flashy
- They’re an easy solution for getting all the messaging from competing departments within the organization (more on that right below)
That is why, on any one of our dealership sites, you would get the monthly promotions for new vehicles, maybe a tire change promotion, then a used car promotion, and then a “welcome to our dealership” imagery. They were unanimously at least two slides long, all with different messaging. That’s because each department wanted to highlight their offers on the homepage above the fold. So what’s the easy solution? Carousel slider! Ordering the slides in an order that won’t ruffle feathers? Now that’s another story! Sometimes we’d get angry messages from managers asking for the order to be changed because used vehicles are more important than tire changing promotions. Apparently.
There are many things that irritate designers about carousel sliders, despite all their technical advances, namely:
- Carousel sliders are prone to the banner blindness effect
- Carousel sliders aren’t accessibility-friendly, and are often not mobile-friendly either
- Carousel sliders are conversion and ROI killers
Let’s look at these reasons in depth.
1. Carousel sliders are affected by banner blindness
Banner blindness is effectively the result of subconsciously tuning out any and all content that resembles an ad. Myself, I use AdBlock on my browser because ads can make pages load slower, they cost end user precious data, and I’m tired of tuning them out. I don’t even want to see them to begin with.
When a visitor arrives on a website, they tend to immediately direct their attention to the goal they set themselves out on. Any embellishment, then, gets ignored. That includes advertisements and… carousel sliders, especially the ones that automatically slide without user input.
Studies confirm that most users view carousel sliders as banner advertisements because they move automatically. That makes the users more likely to ignore them completely in favour of getting to the content they came for. This is because the slider animations, layout and content tend to be similar to those seen in banner ads.
Even if it is not an automatically sliding carousel, the corporation cannot assume that its visitors will take the time to slide through and read all of the content in each banner. Perhaps they’ll land on the website and scroll down past the slider right away to get directly to the content they want.
Almost all of the testing I’ve managed has proven content delivered via carousels to be missed by users. Few interact with them and many comment that they look like adverts and so we’ve witnessed the banner blindness concept in full effect.
In terms of space saving and content promotion a lot of competing messages get delivered in a single position that can lead to focus being lost.
Hence, there are very big chances, whether the carousel slides automatically or not, that it will be entirely ignored.
2. Carousel sliders are not accessibility-friendly
They’re not mobile-friendly either. Indeed, moving user interface elements reduce accessibility for people with reduced visual or motor skills. It also reduces accessibility for people navigating the website on small devices. It often proves difficult to click something before it’s taken away at quick intervals.
Most slider layouts use very small controls: small arrows on either side and / or small bullet points on the bottom of the slider. Those elements are often too small or contain too little contrast for someone with certain disabilities to readily see.
Having an accessibility-compliant website ensures that all of your website’s visitors are on an equal footing when they view and interact with it. Not doing so could end up alienating some of your audience and costing you what otherwise could have been loyal visitors.
Additionally, carousel sliders are bulky and load slowly, making the entire web page load slowly. In the age where site speed is king in Google‘s ranking algorithms, it just doesn’t make sense to use a carousel. Moreover, images that look good on desktop can look too shrunk to be legible on mobile.
Combined with the frustration of not being able to scroll down on mobile because the carousel is in the way and requires left or right swipes (or, worse, clicks) only, carousels on mobile are a recipe for disaster.
3. Carousel sliders are conversion and ROI killers
And not in a good way! To put it simply, most people do not interact with them. If they do, it is usually only on the first slide.
The main reason is… banner blindness. Yup. People just don’t pay attention to carousel sliders. Overwhelmed with too many offers, too much text and too much advertising jargon, many users just end up skipping ahead to the content they actually came to the website to see.
Carousel sliders are overwhelming. They’re confusing. They make your potential clients doubt you.
It’s impossible to build a relationship of trust between you and your potential clients if you are refusing to make your business’s online front a good one. Here are some good rules of thumb for a visitor-friendly website:
- Do not assume your visitors know who you are.
- Do not assume your visitors can read long texts within 5 seconds.
- Do not assume your visitors will through all your slides, let alone more than one.
- Do not assume your visitors will stay.
Building a carousel slider is, in my opinion, a waste of your precious resources. To me, it shows that you lack focus. It shows you just want to sell a whole bunch of stuff or ideas, but can’t choose which one is most important. Indeed, you’re just dumping all of them on the visitor. “Here, have some verbal diarrhea and oh, have a bunch of products because we can’t decide which one’s the most awesome.”
No. Choose one, and choose well. But stop bombarding your visitors with a stew that’ll make them stew.
Quick, simple solutions
If you really can’t stand not having static content, try video or animated content. You can fit a lot of ideas, products or services in one space if they’re all introduced in a cohesive way.
Rather than bombarding your site’s visitors with all your offers are once, you can draw attention to your most important offer (your “hero” image) above the fold and then add the others in relevant areas.
Implementing simple changes like these communicates the key messages or offers you originally set out to highlight.
@KShermPhoto I suggest replacing it with all the content users are actually coming to the site for that gets pushed down by the carousel.
— Erik Runyon (@erunyon) January 22, 2013
So, in light of all this, should you use a carousel slider? If you’ve decided not to, what are some alternatives you are using?