Design & Technology June 29, 2015
The Curse of the Carousel
As developers, we sometimes get asked to build something for a site that makes us shudder and immediately think, “Why? What benefit will this bring to the site?”
One of the most common features to fit this category is the carousel.
If you’re a web developer, you will most likely have added a carousel to a website at some point in your career. Some of you may even have been lucky enough to build a carousel within a carousel (yes, such a thing exists and, no, it’s generally not a good idea!)
As a client, or possibly a designer, you may have been the driving force behind the inclusion of a carousel on a website, and you may now be asking, “What’s wrong with carousels? I quite like them…” I suppose, in principle, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them at all, and they are most likely seen as a solution to certain problems.
Now, I don’t know every conversation and motivating factor that leads to the inclusion of a carousel on a website, but I reckon these reasons may have cropped up a few times:
1. Content wars
Five different department heads all want their content to be at the top of the homepage, visible for all to see.
Solution: Give everyone what they want by using a carousel! Perfect.
2. Show them and they will buy!
We want to show some big banner images of our new product range. They’re all equally important and we need the users to see them.
Solution: We’ll put them in a carousel! Woohoo! Problem solved!
3. They look cool
I want to make my page look snazzy and have a big visual impact.
Solution: Hey, we should use a carousel!
4. Just ‘because’
I want a carousel because that’s what websites have.
Solution: Okay then, let’s add a carousel.
So, why not use carousels?
No one really clicks on them
From a user interaction perspective (which you would imagine is the main reason for a carousel), a study by at Erik Runyon from the University of Notre Dame found that carousels only have a 1% rate of interaction (click -through). Of that, 84% is on the first slide.
These stats tell us that users generally don’t click through to content from carousels and, if they do, they’re mainly clicking on the first slide, which means they could’ve just used a banner/hero instead.
They’ll slow your site down
Depending on the images and number of slides included, the content of the carousel could be adding significantly to the page weight. This will slow down the page load time (significantly if using a 3G connection), which could easily lead to a big drop in traffic.
Amazon proved this point. It discovered that for every 100ms of page load time there was a 1% decrease in sales. 1%! With an annual revenue of around $90bn, 1% is a huge figure!
Now, you may think it’s just a few slides with a few images – what difference will it really make? Well, a rather big one if your images aren’t optimised!
For example, I came across a carousel that was using slide images that were easily into the megabytes. This led to a page size of somewhere around 50Mb! Not good for your mobile data connection. In fact, not good for your page load time on broadband either!
They’re not great for accessibility
From a technical standpoint, carousels are poor for accessibility.
If a user has tabbed onto an element in the visible slide using their keyboard, thereby making something within that slide focused, if that slide then moves away to reveal the next slide, the user will be transported back to the top of the page. Not a great experience if you’re restricted to using the keyboard for navigation.
If it doesn’t improve the customer experience, don’t bother
I recognise that sometimes carousels can be an easy solution that appeases stakeholders. But, ultimately, they don’t add anything for the user and, let’s face it, without users our websites are pointless.
Carousels often end up becoming an unwanted distraction and potentially slow down access to the site. If we also consider the time and effort involved with designing, coding and content managing a carousel on a regular basis, all for something that has little to no positive impact, we can see a greater argument for coming up with an alternative solution that will actively improve your customer experience.
Ask yourself these questions…
Everyone involved in the creation and management of a site should take great consideration about what elements are included on a website to improve customer experience. Ask yourself :
- Is there a tangible benefit to it?
- What will be the cost of this – both in design, development and content management time, but also in page weight and accessibility?
- Are we adding it simply because somebody thinks it looks great, or thinks it’s needed without any real justification?
- Are there better alternatives?
When in doubt, consult this handy ‘Should I use a Carousel’ tool!
(Also don’t add carousels, seriously, never ever.)