The case for the downtrodden Carousel
Posted on July 15, 2014
Image sliders, carousels, [insert wow-name] are one of the best examples of internet craze and dismay. They were that thing that every great designer had waiting up her sleeve in 2008 to send clients beaming back to their cars to know their site was going to be incredibly special at whatever cost. They got wild for awhile, becoming clickable, readable, incorporating not just images but calls to action, additional layover elements, keyboard controls, special animations and all other jQuery UI abilities. They took over home pages, and became the latest flash intros (but theyre NOT flash, so its cool.) Just like everything else, as soon as it been developed as far as it could go, there was nothing left to do but feel fatigued and encourage the market to move on.
Backing the argument with data this time, the developers who wanted to get in front of the trend backed their fatigue up with a bunch of data and headed to the design office to check in with our friendly designers and begin the process of deconstructing their love affairs with the image carousel. Websites were posted, shared - dedicated to taking down the carousel. After all, they were extraordinarily difficult for the end user to interact with - just check out this click data. Nobody can use a carousel, and therefore it is an old, tired dog. With the love affair now closed squarely on data, the community as a whole was won over by the new normal and websites responded. After all, if your web team isnt going to give you a carousel, guess what - youre not going to get a carousel.
Now carousels are quietly being passed back and forth infrequently in the minds of website conceptualizers of all walks of life who think about sites abstractly. Theyre still around, but their bubble and bust has wiped them from the use and excitation they used to experience. Sometimes, one will get through design and land on your lap - and you need to kindly pass along this site to the sorry fool who hasnt seen it yet and try not to be obvious about taking them down a notch in your book with the words in your email. In the Netfish project, this was one of the first bits of conversation over a design that went through handfuls of unplanned revisions. A carousel was present on the home page and I had to be clear with my client about where carousels were in favorability. They didnt take much convincing. Clearly the reputation of carousels had soaked in beyond the developer/client line already here in Albuquerque or they just needed a little push. But they did have this to add.
We are not wedded to the idea of the carousel (I personally do not like them), but the ad agency suggested it as a way of catching the eye.
When you have a trusting relationship with a client who looks to you as an expert, this kind of claim needs to be debunked very carefully, and in a way that can be understood by them. Clearly, this client wasnt just anyone - they had presented a web design to me that was a confluence of a professional designer and the internal staff. The designer was trying to deliver something very specific with this carousel and if I were to just throw industry chatter at it, it would have gone away, and I would have won. (Yes, this can be a competition sometimes.) But here I had it: an eye-catching design, with stuff that caught the eye. Was that the whole point? To catch the eye? Carousels do catch the eye - any movement does. Carousels just happen to do it within boundaries on a page. The carousel wasnt demanding clicks - or it didnt have to at all. In fact, if it was supposed to catch the eye, did catch the eye, but then was pointedly ignored, it may have a different set of strengths altogether.
I came back to them with lets keep the carousel - well use it to subliminally reinforce the brand. Well add slides about quality, convenience, customer service. Well put links on them just in case someone clicks, but the idea being that were not expecting any. There wont be any keyboard commands, auto advance, or anything. Just a touch of movement allowing the eye to land on big-fonted words like Sustainable Seafood, Chef Testimonials, 100% Guaranteed, and Right to your door.
I want to point out that I didnt debunk the claim that carousels catch the eye. Quite the opposite - they do a very good job of it. Any data measuring clicks through a carousel, navigation of a carousel, or conversions originating in a carousel is completely ignoring this. And the carousel is doing its job, in the middle of the home page, passively entertaining visitors who are thinking about shopping there for the first time. Any indecisive person sitting on the home page may be examining the menus (what is this site made of?,) the footer, (whos behind this thing, anyway?) the design, (is that water picture fixed?) or better yet, checking out the page sizing (is this thing responsive?) the carousel is there reinforcing the brand every several seconds. Its only found on the home page, and unlike flash intros, it gets out of the way of anyone who is there with an agenda.
Now the carousel is nearly dead, and its like were blaming it for our raucous pursuance of its ubiquity, when the only thing left to do is use it properly, whenever that is.
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. ? Albert Einstein
This overused quote says it best - if youre measuring the worthiness of a feature by what it doesnt do (or by how tired you are of seeing others misuse/overuse it,) youre not doing it right. Additionally, if youre riding the big kahuna that the powers that be are making and letting unknown forces send you crashing back to shore, there may be more to examine about the situation than the headcount of other folks also caught up in it.