Are carousels over-used on websites?

Carousels (or sliders as they are also known) have become a ubiquitous method of presenting content on websites but they are often not the best choice for presenting information to people.

One argument I hear a lot is that they are ‘more interactive’. But this is not really a valid argument in my opinion since interactivity, readability and accessibility are not the same thing.

Really the decision to use or not to use a carousel should be based on the content that you are presenting. If you want the information to be seen quickly by the person viewing the website then hiding it away where someone has to either wait many seconds or make multiple clicks to reach is probably not a wise move.

Don’t get me wrong, carousels are still a useful tool, but it has to be in the right circumstances.

The drawbacks of a carousel

Let’s consider the downsides of a carousel:-

  1. Most of the content is initially hidden from view
  2. You either have to wait some time, or make multiple clicks, to reach most of the content
  3. Content is ‘outside’ the normal document flow that you can see simply by scrolling the page
  4. The amount of content in a carousel may be space limited
  5. People may scroll right past your carousel unless there is a strong reason for them to stop and look throught it
  6. They can present some difficulties in making them adapt to different screen sizes

So if you consider the case of a carousel with 6 slides, each with a 6 second delay between slides, then that’s a 30 second wait before you see the last slide even if you have hung around long enough to get there. Yes you can click or swipe to speed things up but there has to be an incentive for users to do this otherwise they will just scroll past.

When is the right time to use a carousel?

An appropriate time to use a carousel is when the user is pre-prepared for it and has an expectation of what they will see within that carousel before they interact with it.

A good example of this would be an image gallery. With suitable text content around, or leading to, the gallery then it is immediately obvious that by navigating through the carousel of what you are going to see.

When is the wrong time to use a carousel?

When the carousel has no context to it. Or when the content within the carousel has a high degree of importance in terms of getting that content in front of the eyeballs of the user.

In these cases you are better off re-thinking your presentation method and placing the content within the normal document flow where people are more likely to be able to access it simply by scrolling the page.

If the carousel is the first element on your web page then it is certainly lacking context and you will likely find that most the content you put inside that carousel will go unseen as visitors simply scroll past it looking for information faster than you are presenting it !