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Carousels, Slideshows, and Other Rotating Content

Content that can slide in and out of view is typically called a carousel or slideshow in the web technology industry. These rotating content areas have been around for a long time to

  • solve the issue of placing all the desired content “above the folder” and
  • look like a really cool animation.

However, they are one of the biggest user experience controversies in the industry. Why? Take a look at a very ironic response at Should I use a Carousel which summarizes the main arguments against carousels. These responses include usability expert testimony and university research that shows people really don’t take advantage of these carousels as often as we might think.

One of the biggest flaws, particularly with animated carousels, is that the content reminds us of banner advertisements. We’ve become so accustomed to ignoring them that we’ve developed “banner blindness.” A slideshow can be right in front of us with the question we are looking for on the first slide, yet due to its advertising nature, we will ignore it and scroll down looking for the content we want.

Additionally, they are problematic for people with cognitive impairments. Think about how long you have to read an automated slide before it moves on to the next slide. Your mind is trying to process one thing and is suddenly engaged with another.

What has Web Services done?

The new responsive template allows only one kind of rotating content module to slide automatically, the Slideshow content module. Even then, it is allows user choice. Usability best practices and accessibility guidelines require allowing the user to control the situation. It is compliant with accessibility standards in that it allows users to pause and play each slide, in addition to navigational buttons for viewing previous and next slides. All other rotating content modules require user control only to navigate through the slides.

Too much action on the page is distracting, and it takes your audience away from your main goal or purpose on your website. In addition to reducing the automated rotation of slides, Web Services also reduced the number of content modules that allow animation. This is again in reference to the compliance requirement of pausing and playing content based on user choice. Since most animations play automatically, too many animations become distracting and create the same “banner blindness” as the slides rotating on their own.

What can you do?

Use a carousel / slideshow

If you are going to use a carousel, keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t use more than 5 slides.
  • Rotate the order of the slides periodically to show your audience new information.
  • Use engaging photographs, not graphics, on your slides to avoid looking like banners that will be ignored.
  • Make sure each slide has an intentional purpose, a call-to-action, and is not there merely as decoration.
Use an alternative to a carousel / slideshow

If you are looking for an alternative route, think about your goal or purpose for your website. Typically slideshows are on the homepage. What should your audience come away with from looking at your homepage?

  • Focus on a subject for a short period of time and switch it out for fresh content.
  • Use a large picture and provide engaging text (e.g. Photo Feature Panel).

References