Slideshows, also known as carousels or sliders, on websites have been around for a long time, but do we really need them? Here’s my take on why not.

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Slideshows, also known as carousels or sliders, on websites have been around for a long time, but do we really need them? Here’s my take on why not.

What is a slideshow?

Also known as carousels or sliders, slideshows are the constantly changing/moving images typically found on home pages of websites. Sometimes each individual slide in a slideshow has a link or sometimes it is just a bunch of images. Usually just one slide or one slide and bit of the adjacent slides are shown and they are usually automated and keep showing one slide after another in timed intervals.

A brief history of slideshows

Slideshows, as far as I remember, go back to the early 2000s, when we had to use Flash (Macromedia back then, before Adobe bought them over) to create slideshows. They were cool, added a dynamic, moving element to otherwise static pages. These were the days before online videos and animation were easy (both of those trace their roots back to Flash coincidentally). They were new, fancy and everyone was using them on their websites. I did so myself. Whether they were actually effective or not was never questioned. They just looked cool.

Flash gradually declined because HTML, CSS and JS kept improving and we could do things like slideshows and small animations without depending on the Flash plugin. Slideshows got a whole lot easier to make. Still, their effectiveness was never questioned. I jumped on to the bandwagon and a slideshow was often the first thing I thought of when designing the home page of any site.

What is the problem then?

Slideshows are not good. There are several reasons:

  • No matter how good and responsive a slideshow is, it is not going to look good or work well on smaller screens. Ignoring mobile users is the worst thing a website can do these days. Most people will access your website on smaller screens. Slideshows just don’t work well on anything smaller than a laptop screen.
  • I can link to several studies done about this, but it doesn’t take much to actually understand that very few people actually bother clicking on a slide. If your slides are linked to other pages/sections of your website, most people won’t get there by clicking on a slideshow slide, especially if it is not the first slide. Some studies show a click through rate of as low as 1%.
  • Similarly, if your slideshow is just a bunch of images that are not clickable, most people will not bother navigating through the slideshow and seeing every single slide. People online are impatient and that trend is only getting worse. People want instant information.
  • Slideshows are not accessible. That is, they are a nightmare for visually impaired users to navigate through. It just doesn’t work well. No matter how accessible you try to make it. The very idea of a slideshow where only one part of it is presented at a time, makes it less accessible.
  • Slideshows take a lot of bandwidth and will slow down your site, especially if it has many slides or large images (which seems to be the trend with slideshows these days). Making your site slow is another website no-no. Especially if most of that content is not going to be seen or interacted with in the first place.
  • Slideshows, especially modern, large slideshows that take up a large amount of screen real estate, hide other, more important content.
  • Most slideshows don’t give enough time for users to grasp all of the content on each slide. Before you know it it’s gone. Even if the slideshow lets you navigate through it manually, you are just expecting the user to do additional work to get content.
  • Modern websites in general tend to have more moving things - slideshows, animations, scrolling effects and what not (will write a post on this soon). A slideshow is just going to make it more busy and distract from real content.

Why do clients ask for them?

I’ve been avoiding using slideshows on websites I make for my clients for a few years now. It is usually met with some opposition and most clients tend to ask if I can add a slideshow on their home page after seeing the first draft of the design. I have been reasonably successful in making clients understand why they are not a good idea, but then some clients absolutely insist. I then ask them why they think they need a slideshow and the answers are either vague and lack any substance or misinformed. Some things I’ve heard about why a slideshow is required:

  • A slideshow makes all the important information available in one place
  • The competitor’s website has a slideshow
  • Someone told them that a slideshow is required to make the website better
  • Their previous website had a slideshow
  • Their “team” decided that a slideshow is required
  • A slideshow looks good
  • The website looks bland or boring without a slideshow
  • A slideshow adds a dynamic element to the website
  • A website is ineffective without a slideshow

None of the above points are good enough to warrant having a slideshow, but you just can’t convince some clients and have to take the decision of either abandoning the project or giving in and living in denial of having done that website. I tend to take the latter approach. Then there are some clients who change their mind years after their website has gone online and worked perfectly without a slideshow.

What are the alternatives?

Any approach to presenting content without a slideshow is better.

If your individual slides are clickable and go to different parts of your website, the solution is easy. Prioritise these links and present them individually. Good Information Architecture would give you an idea of what content is more important. Placing important content higher up on the page and using good contrast in your design (with colour, type and layout) can remove the need for having a slideshow.

If your individual slides are not clickable and is just a gallery of images, why have a slideshow in the first place? You are better off presenting clickable thumbnails that lead to a larger version (either as an overlay on the same page or a different page).

If you don’t know why you want a slideshow, if it’s because some other “designer” told you or if you want it because everyone else has it on their website, then don’t do it. You don’t need a slideshow.

You don’t need a slideshow

A website’s primary goal should be to present good content in a structured way and make it accessible. A website is not something that just has to appear pretty and fancy with all the graphics and effects. Having a slideshow just because it looks cool (very subjective opinion of course and I personally don’t think they look that great) is not a good idea. Unless of course, your website does not have quality content and you just want to show off with some special effects. In that case, just go ahead and add a slideshow.

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