When it comes to website design, there’s one element in particular that you’ll have no trouble finding opinions on. Carousels.
Carousels are a controversial topic. Some designers love them while others despise them. You’d be hard-pressed to find a designer that felt neutrally about them.
But, with all this talk, you might be wondering how much damage they can really cause and if there are any redeeming qualities that can actually benefit your website. Let’s take a moment to explore this together.
The Downside of Carousels
The argument behind every critic of carousel boils down to user experience. The whole point of UX design is to create websites that are intuitive and easy to use. It can be said that carousels disrupt this process.
To achieve UX goals, the user shouldn’t need to put much effort into making a choice. We put a ton of emphasis on clean, clear design and function, so it only makes sense that a moving, ever-changing primary element is going to put a kink in that.
Plus, the use of a carousel brings up some practical concerns for UX design. For example, carousels can slow pages down which can hurt SEO. They also don’t always transition well for the mobile consumer, which is enough for some web designers to not even give them a chance.
Additionally, carousels can make some users feel like they don’t have control of the experience. They’re being forced to view content via auto-forwarding that they didn’t agree to, similar to an auto-play video. This can also be an accessibility violation called time-based media. In other words, a carousel may move to another segment before the user is ready. This is especially problematic for users with cognitive and visual disabilities. One good UX measure to counter this issue is having the segment pause when hovering over it. This is an approach also used by Amazon.
Also, there’s research that indicates the great majority of users don’t bother to flip to the segments of the carousels. According to ND.edu, on average less than 1% of visitors click on carousel features. This is also due to banner blindness, where our subconscious willfully ignores marketing bombardments, which carousels may potentially be perceived as. According to Jakob Nielsen, carousels are usually either ignored entirely or at least are perceived as annoying by users.
In other words, visitors will likely just glance at the first segment and scroll down to other page content. So, if your marketing campaign strategy relies on people seeing those segments, you might want to reconsider how this content is presented. For example, one other way to better expose the content on the carousel is to show multiple segments at a time when the user is on a bigger form factor like desktop or tablet.
Sounds pretty bad, right? Not necessarily. There are some good things about carousels, too. Let’s take a look.
Winning UX with Carousels
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the optimists that will argue that there are UX benefits to carousels that outweigh the cons.
For example, carousels can keep a user engaged on a page. They give the visitor something to look at, highlight premier content and provide a nice visual break from the rest of the page.
Also, let’s consider what carousels are composed of, images. Pages that contain interesting visual components are better for UX than blocks of text. When done right, each image tells a different visual story for your brand.
The answer to the carousels question shouldn’t be yes or no, but rather when. It’s true that they can ruin a website when they’re implemented without taking the time to do a little user research.
And while some say that carousels take value away from a page, they can be a feasible approach for consolidating visual content that would otherwise overwhelm a page. Although, critics will argue this is a lazy designer approach to integrating more images.
Abdul has helped over 40 Fortune 500 companies make informed user-centered design decisions through evidence-based user research and UX best practices. As an Adjunct Professor, Abdul has taught in DePaul University’s graduate UX programs and for nine other universities.