Have image sliders had their day?

With the growth of RWD, and flat design everything has become simpler. Gone are the days where the idea was to stuff all sorts of dynamic functionality into your front page. With more and more people accessing data through mobile devices, we have been asking ourselves, here at PS headquarters, whether image sliders are a good use of space or not?

After years spent exporting, compressing and embedding flash files, the arrival of the image slider meant that interactivity could be added easily to any homepage - the arrival of Image sliders/carousels was a hallelujah moment.

So my question is…does anyone actually read them?

I know I don’t! I have been pondering this question for sometime and wondering whether they need to be assigned to the web dev cupboard of the forgotten along with tables, trippy backgrounds and flash on your homepage. After “extensive research” (googling the term ‘image slider usage stats’), I found an interesting post on interaction stats by Erik Runyon (weedygarden.net). I was amazed to discover that the fate of the image slider was already being called into question as far back as Jan 2013.

In a nutshell, Erik Runyon took a specific bunch of sliders over a period of 3-4 months and tracked:

  • Number of times the feature is switched by users
  • Total feature clicks
  • Total clicks per position

The results were pretty much as I had expected (unfortunately) – only 1% (approx.) of users monitored clicked on a feature, with the majority of users remaining on the first slide. Auto forwarding sliders fared slightly better with a higher percentage (8.8%) of users clicking through to a feature.

Whilst this study is by no means an indication of the slider usage stats today, I think it is beneficial as it demonstrates how users view sliders.

They were hailed as the great space saver and to be honest, I have always felt they are clumsy and awkward, coupled with the fact that they don’t translate fully to mobile platforms.

So what is the solution?

With the rise in the popularity of flat design, I have seen a gradual change in the number of websites NOT using image sliders. As we are looking for faster and better desktop to mobile optimisation it kind of makes sense to get rid of the image slider and utilise that space for something quick and easy for your users.

We recently conducted an experiment (and I use the term lightly!) on our own website and used tracking code on our image slider and call to action (CTA) links which sat directly below. The results were pretty astounding, we found that the CTA links were rarely, if ever used and the slider didn’t fare much better.

With this is mind we re-developed our homepage and after lengthy discussions decided to get rid of our image slider, and do you know what, it was pretty liberating. We now have a design that we feel works well for our users and us, in both desktop and mobile devices. Of course, whilst this is a good solution for our site, I understand that sometimes an image slider is still the most effective way to deliver a large amount of data in bite-sized chunks. By deciding to ditch the image slider on your website, careful planning is needed to ensure you get the message and design right. But perhaps it is time for a design revolution.

The only way to accurately see whether a slider is working for your customers is to use analytics to track usage, although when it comes to alternative solutions, I haven’t thought that far ahead and so am open to ideas!