Human intuition can still outperform machine analytics when it comes to understanding the indirect benefits that design choices create and that are impossible to measure in isolation.
The preceding post – Too much education? – looked at how unskilled people make better decisions than professionals when given access to the same technology and a superior process. The irony is that an unskilled person is far more likely to follow the process than a professional. A professional can be tempted to bend the rules or ignore data points that don’t fit expectations. Sometimes, that path will lead to brilliance. Innovation comes from implausible experiments. Most times it will fail. The joy of learning…
Thanks to the Twitter-verse, a couple of posts have cropped up challenging the value of using carousels on web site home pages. For those who are thinking along the lines of a fairground ride, a carousel on a web site is a horizontal scrolling display of items. It’s a way of presenting a list of content, usually with visual backdrops, in less space. Each item scrolls into view, one at a time. Usually automatically with the option to override.
The general consensus from experienced web designers is that carousels are a waste of space and shouldn’t be used. And there is an increasing amount of evidence to back up their sentiment:
- In a web survey of 3 million site visitors, only 1% clicked through a carousel item
- Of those who did click (the 1%), 89% clicked the first item in the carousel
If you were hoping for high clicks from your carousel, you will likely be disappointed.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use one. There are valid issues to consider such as accessibility needs. Screen readers can struggle with carousels. You shouldn’t have anything in a carousel that can’t be easily accessed via normal navigation and content. If that’s a problem, don’t use a carousel.
Only consider a carousel if you think it will visually enhance the appearance of your web home page without negative consequences (page loading performance can be an issue) and whether that enhancement may lead to better engagement directly or indirectly.
The physical equivalent of a carousel is the shop window. How do you decide what to put in a shop window display? You can’t fit all the contents of the shop in one window. So it tends to focus on a current promotion or new content people may not know about. Some shops fill their windows with posters. Others create elaborate themed displays
How many visitors to a shop walk through the door solely because of what they have just seen in the shop window display? I don’t have the statistics. I’m going to guess it’s around 1%.
So should shops not bother with window displays? Of course not. Apart from a certain customer segment within a certain industry (hint: Ann Summers manages to do shop window displays on the high street), shops without window displays actively deter people from entering. It’s not a good strategy if you want to sell stuff.
Back in the virtual world of the web, a home page could simply be a search box. But that’s like a shop with a door and blanked out windows. It’s one thing having a search box to make a start on the Internet. It’s another matter entirely relying solely on search on a single web site. Generally, a bit of navigation will get you where you need to be faster. But how much navigation? A page filled with text and links is going to feel overwhelming – the paradox of choice. It will benefit from being broken up with visuals and whitespace, and logical groups under simple headings.
Does your site need a carousel? No.
Should you use one anyway? It depends on what would be on the page instead.
I use a carousel on this site because it automatically displays the 10 most recent posts tagged as ‘promoted’ and I like displaying different visuals instead of a static image. I do not expect anyone to take the slightest bit of notice of it. It’s pure vanity. Most traffic on this site does not start from the home page. If you are reading this in a web browser, chances are you clicked a link from somewhere else and landed up direct on this page. And you’ll probably leave after reading.
If you have a web site that includes highly visual content, preferably your own creations such as artwork or photography, a carousel can be a lovely showcase regardless of whether anyone clicks on it or not.
I mostly abhor the use of carousels on intranets and portals. They take up valuable screen estate on a system that has to try and serve many different needs that are often urgent. They rarely deliver anything of value other than shutting up somebody who is passionate about carousels or similar high-visual displays for broadcast communications that people read once and then get irritated when seeing it on a daily basis for the next week or more.
But all of the above are guidelines. There are no rules and sack any web designer who tells you otherwise. It’s hard to evaluate the effectiveness of a carousel without considering what other interactions it has influenced, positively or negatively. Has it put somebody off visiting the site – did they close the browser window in frustration because it took too long for the background image to load. Did they spot something of interest but then choose to search for a similar item. Site analytics will not record these behaviours. That’s when a bit of design creativity and intuition trumps data-driven decisions.
A simple solution for web sites is to use A|B testing with and without carousels and analyse the overall site performance against expectations. And expectations are rarely as simple as ‘did the user click on the carousel?’
Featured image: ‘Coney Island Carousel‘ kindly shared on Flickr by drpavloff