They have been everywhere. Every front page of a website that you visited had one. They came in various formats and layouts. You never watched more than the first frame. Yes. I’m talking about sliders.
Ironically, that introductory sentence itself does a pretty good job at explaining why sliders, carousels and other similar design options are almost always bad interface design. But let’s look at the details.
You Never Go Beyond The First Frame
The primary reason for the slider being a bad design option is simple. Nobody sticks around to watch more than the first or maybe the second frame. And in fact, that’s pretty much the main reason why they aren’t very effective or good.
Nobody sticks around to watch more than the first slide.
Most often today we use the hero design pattern instead. This means one large section at the top of the front page that highlights one specific area instead. This is much clearer for the user, and converts well too.
But not all reasons are bad.
Political Reasons Can Be OK
It’s never ideal to have to make decisions based on internal politics, but in a larger organization that might be reality at times. And a slider or carousel might just be the best way to achieve internal consensus on the age-old debate: “Which thing shall go on the first page of the site? Mine is that important. It should be there!”
“Which thing shall go on the first page of the site? Mine is that important. It should be there!”
Try at all costs to avoid this, but if you just have to, there are carousel implementations which highlight the existence of more content, and preview it to the user, which aren’t all too bad.
Photo Sliders and Similar Types
Sliders used for photography and similar is not bad. The main reason is that while you are showing off different content, it isn’t (in theory) prioritized, and at any rate, it’s mentally conceived as a way to view this type of content.
We are pretty used to viewing photo slideshows. In fact, if clearly visually marked as one, we are inclined to stick around and watch the display if it catches our interest. It’s a good design pattern for the right type of content.
Use When The Following Content Isn’t Crucial
While the title of this post may feel like your writer has a personal vendetta against sliders, it isn’t quite the case. It is absolutely the case that most of the time my advise is not to use a slider. Primarily, this is because the slider is meant to take center-stage on a frontpage.
The shared key in all of these cases are that the first slide shows what it is all about and does a pretty good job in itself of satisfying the user.
As we have seen with the photo slider example, the proper use for a slider is when the following frames in it aren’t crucial to the website. Photos can be excellent and same for a sliding list of testimonials, or a carousel of examples.
The shared key in all of these cases are that the first slide shows what it is all about and does a pretty good job in itself of satisfying the user. What clearly follows are then more, but similar, examples. Not completely different content.
Indicating To The User That More Content Follows
What is absolutely crucial for success with sliders and carousels however, are that the user can easily see that more content follows and preferably how much. There are only a few exceptions of this (automatic photo sliders being one possible).
Do use an arrow (or similar) to let the user clearly navigate and by all means, do have a visual indication of where the user is in the sliding/carousel content and where they are going. Whether this means having a graphical “dot” illustration that is common practice, using thumbnails, or some other graphical representation is irrelevant. You would however, be very wise to do it.
Conclusion: (Mostly) Skip Sliders
It’s an easy summary. Sliders are best avoided. Replace them with heros, plus other static blocks which are clearly visible. Only if you find yourself repeating content, where the first bit of it can stand clearly and reach the goal by itself can a slider or carousel be a wise design element.
Blocks can be easily seen while scanning the page, and doesn’t require patience to wait for. What’s in a hidden slider item cannot, which makes the argument and choice easy.