Trying to please everyone, but succeeding for nobody

Long-time readers will know that I really don’t like “carousels”. These are the rotating slideshows which have become almost a standard on corporate website home pages. They were invented by web designers to overcome the problem of companies wanting single, impressive big images on their home page, but also wanting to keep half a dozen different divisional or product managers happy. The result, in my opinion, is something which seems to do the job when everyone sees it demonstrated in a conference room, but in reality is a flawed compromise.

Carousels would be fine if website visitors were happy to stick around and watch them scroll through for 20 or 30 seconds. In reality, almost nobody stays on a website’s home page for more than a few seconds – they click through to where they want to go as quickly as possible.

The result is that the second and subsequent slides in the carousel hardly get seen by anyone. This would be OK, if it weren’t for the fact that the first slide does get seen and digested by the visitor, but often shows just a small selection of what the company has to offer. So the visitor only sees the slide which says: “Your leading blue widget solutions provider” (or some similar marketing-speak), and never sees the slides which point out that the company also makes red and yellow widgets.

Humans can skim through a selection of static messages and digest the overall content very quickly indeed. Carousel slideshows work reasonably well when they’re used to illustrate a list of items which appears permanently alongside them, or when their content is repeated as static panels too. They can also be used to liven up a page where people might be stuck for 10 seconds or more because there’s a form to complete. Otherwise, they need to be really simple and rush by very quickly if you’re going to guarantee visitors will see all the messages.

Discussion

  1. Kat

    I’ve had some very very long discussions with people about carousels. I have to say that the repeated static panels are by far the best use of carousels. In these discussions though, it does seem like about half of people do stay on landing pages, usually because they have the page open as they’re looking at other applications or there’s something that keeps them on the front page (like articles or other content). My verdict is that carousels can be used quite effectively, but you have to look at how your customers use the site and what they’re looking to get from it.

    I’ve always been a huge fan of carousels on websites, from a consumer standpoint. I love the large eye-catching visuals and the movement they create. It makes the website “come alive”. They always catch my eye and I often find myself scrolling through the tabs to see what the site has that I’m interested in (this for news and product sites in particular). I also am a huge multitasker and often have several windows and websites open at once, so it’s very likely that a carousel on a webpage will be open to my left, actually stealing my attention from what I’m working on in the right pane. A static webpage won’t do this.

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