Carousels

… are evil! Are carousels evil?


According to Jared Smith carousels sliders are straight from hell and should not be used and any circumstances. Never ever. Ever!

According to Jared Smith, Adam Fellowes found that users do not interact with carousels correctly and miss the information they are supposed to provide.

Almost all of the testing I’ve managed has proven content delivered via carousels to be missed by users. Few interact with them.
(Adam Fellowes)

In recent times full screen carousels have become more common and are used by many companies like squarespace, so it might be a valid idea to question the truth of Jareds statement.

To do so we need to define what a carousel is and which types of carousels exist.

A carousels can be defined as a collection of pieces of information (like images or teasers) which are presented on a one by one bases so that only one element can be seen at a time.
A carousel may be navigated by means of arrows, keyboard shortcuts, a pager navigation or might have an automatic rotation.

There are different types of carousels though. You have the normal carousel everyone grew to dread, which is basically a rotating banner. This is mostly used because the marketing department wants to engage the user by showing the “10 things that make us great” or something like that.

Another type of carousel is the product or portfolio carousel. This is a reaction to space limitation (for products) or laziness (for portfolios). Instead of showing a range of pictures of the item in question, only one picture is shown at a time, with a navigation to go to the next / previous slide.

The third important type of carousel is the full screen carousel. This is mostly a marketing tool. Instead of having a long landing page the user is presented with one “ad like” screen, with a new screen sliding in after a couple seconds. This is mostly used to show different use cases or features of a product.

I am sure, the normal carousel is exactly as evil as portrait by many people like Brad Frost. If you want to show different things on your homepage, maybe you should have the banner load a different slide every time a user comes to your page. Maybe if you use a carousel to show off different slides on a page, the individual slides aren’t even that important and you can redesign your content and remove the carousel.

Product carousels are less evil because the user focuses on this area of your website anyway and hopefully the product page is fairly reduced. For portfolio pages I would recommend redesigning the page. You are not restricted by space and if your design restricts you to using a carousel you should think about tweaking it. Portfolio items are like magazine pages and should have a nice layout and show off many pictures to give people who just scroll through the page an idea of what you did. So this one is not a “no go” and should definitely be avoided if possible.

Full screen carousel are a conscious design decision, they are the horizontal equivalent of a vertically scrolling landing page. Each slide shows of a use case or feature, making the individual slides fairly reduced and simple while still showing all important information. I think this is the only case in which using a carousel makes sense and is good practise, be careful though, this is a mere opinion and not based on any research. I would be very happy if somebody can provide me with data to disprove or support my hypothesis though.