Image carousels are a common feature on many homepages, but we think it’s time they went the way of the dodo. In this article, we’ll explain what image carousels are, why they are so common, and why they need to be launched into the sun. We’ll also share some design alternatives that we suggest to our clients.
First, what is an image carousel?
Even those unfamiliar with the term “image carousel” have almost certainly encountered them while navigating the internet. Image carousels are common “above the fold” homepage fixtures that display multiple featured banners as “slides.” These slides can either be manually flipped through, set to auto-rotate, or both.
While they are intended to be a dynamic way to capture your users’ attention and showcase multiple products and services at once, the reality is much less promising. There are several reasons why we’re not keen on image carousels:
1. Image carousels are cliche and tired.
From a design perspective, image carousels are boring and overused. They’ve been a web design trend for many years at this point, and many users are so desensitized to them that they often just scroll right past them — a phenomenon known as “banner blindness.”
2. Image carousels are conversion killers.
Image carousels tend to take up a hefty chunk of valuable real estate on homepages, but as many studies and reports have found over the years, they rarely offer much in return due to their terrible conversion rates. As a result of the aforementioned “banner blindness,” carousels often muddle the user’s conversion path. The vast majority of users never navigate beyond the first slide (let alone click-through). That means that if you have an important call-to-action on the second slide, there’s a big chance no one will ever see it.
3. Image carousels are annoying to use.
When users do try to interact with image carousels, they can often be frustrating to use. This is especially true for carousels that are set to rotate automatically. For users who read slowly, they may be unable to read everything on a slide before it switches to the next one. Even if there are buttons on the slider for swapping through manually, those can be a challenge for people with motor skill disabilities.
If image carousels are so bad, why do I see them everywhere?
The abysmal conversion rates for image carousels are no secret — so why can’t web designers seem to shake them off?
Because, despite the data, image carousels are often proposed to appease multiple stakeholders during a web design project. This is especially common at companies with multiple departments. Each department head is pushing to have their products or campaigns featured in a prime spot, and image carousels seem like a suitable compromise.
Even if a business doesn’t need to compromise with multiple stakeholders for a website project, the ubiquity of image carousels over the past decade has led people to believe that it’s a cool, must-have design feature to include — thus, furthering a trend that really ought to be retired.
Alternatives to the Image Carousel
Ready to ditch the image carousel? Here are a few recommendations we offer up to clients:
- Use ONE strong image for your homepage banner, paired with a focused call-to-action. This keeps people focused and moving along your conversion path.
- Keep it fresh by swapping out your homepage banner periodically. This is a great solution for appeasing multiple stakeholders. If there are other messages you want to push, simply swap out the image and call-to-action as needed.
- Add dynamism and movement to your homepage in other ways. If you’re mainly attracted to carousels for the interactive “movement” qualities, you’ll be happy to hear there are other less obstrusive ways to get that “alive” feeling. Ask your web designer about incorporating parallax effects, animated transitions, or video content.
Still really want that image carousel?
We think it’s best to avoid image carousels altogether — especially when there’s so many other options for your homepage design — but we understand there might be circumstances in which you have no choice. Perhaps key stakeholders in your company are holding their ground in thinking it’s the best way to divvy up homepage real estate across different departments and campaigns. Or perhaps you’re stuck with an image carousel until you’re ready for a complete site redesign.
If any of these situations sound familiar, here are a few ways you can make your image carousel a bit more effective and user-friendly:
- Turn off your carousel’s auto-rotating functionality and allow users to manually flip through slides.
- Instead of using those dreaded tiny dots (known as “carousel indicators”) for user navigation, consider adding clear directional buttons that are easy to click. Or at the very least, make those dots bigger!
- Keep the number of slides to a minimum — ideally two, or maybe three at the very most.
- Always have a clear call-to-action on each slide. If your homepage carousel exists simply to be a pretty image slideshow, it is a monumental waste of space. Sure, if you’re a photographer or artist, it’s probably fine to use a carousel on your portfolio page, but for a homepage? Avoid it.
Below is an example of an image carousel that works pretty well — the website for the Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.
Look great, right? Here’s what this homepage’s carousel design does well:
- Only features two slides — each with very clear, strategic calls-to-action.
- No automatic rotation; users can manually flip to the second slide if they feel like it.
- Has easy-to-click direction arrows for navigating. No tiny dots!
Even if we’re not huge fans of image carousels, you can tell that the designers of this particular site really took the weaknesses of carousels into consideration and designed something that wouldn’t be a total conversion killer.
How else can I improve the usability of my website?