Last week, as President Obama was name-dropping “Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall” in his second inaugural address, the web development community took up arms in a new (and obviously much more trivial) revolt: a revolt against sliders.
As I saw it–and I hope that history will record it this way as well–it started with a blog post by my colleague Brian Krogsgard where he condensed the persistent bitching about the subject that occurs among our production team into a well-reasoned and thoughtful post outlining the many reasons that sliders quite often aren’t a great idea. That post gained some serious traction on Twitter and a few social news sites, and soon it seemed that everyone was weighing in on the subject.
In talking about sliders here (or carousels if you prefer), we’re talking about the current convention of large, rotating hero banners that cycle through different calls to action on the home page of a website. By now, the shortcomings of this method are well documented, and it would be useless for me to regurgitate the many excellent points that have been made about just how annoying sliders are to developers and how ineffective they typically are for clients. Yes, sliders suck. But they’re just the latest in a long line of misguided client fixations aimed at producing excitement and engagement on the web.
The Movement Fixation
The sliders aren’t the problem. They’re just another symptom of a general misunderstanding that many clients have of the utilitarian motivation that is fundamental to the internet as a medium. For decades now, clients have been trying to create excitement and engagement by creating movement on the page, borrowing ideas from video production and animation in an effort to ‘wow’ their visitors and provide a more immersive experience than the web by nature provides. Remember sparkling animated Gifs of mailboxes that opened and closed in an endless loop, urging users to ‘contact us by email’? Remember marquee text, blink text, and mouse trace effects? Remember Flash websites, Flash intros and walk-out videos? Each of these crimes was committed in hopes of exciting, recruiting, and persuading uncertain visitors as they first experienced the website. Of course, the primary problem with these efforts is that they did the same for returning visitors, persistently marketing to already converted users, creating disinterest and annoyance with their brand.
These efforts miss the point of the medium. If a visitor is on your site, they’ve gotten there on purpose. You already have their interest and attention. The task then is to inform and convert.
I’ve been in those meetings where I’ve had to talk a client out of Flash intros, walk-out videos, and animations. And I know I’ll be in them again. Clients want to create an exciting, immersive experience using techniques they’re already accustomed to from video and print advertising. They want graphic elements that ‘pop’, that ‘wow’, and that grab your attention. And sliders have become the easiest way for clients to feel like they are creating movement and excitement in a way that isn’t that bad for lazy designers who just want a way out of the argument. Sure, users can flip through all your presentations or calls to action, but we know they never will, and hey–no harm, no foul, just pay the invoice.
But in taking the easy way out of this argument, we’re not only avoiding critical decisions on messaging, hierarchy, and focus, we’re also missing an opportunity to communicate to our clients that it’s the ease of information that makes a website exciting and engaging.
It’s the Information, Stupid
We’re all here for the information, be it encyclopedic information, directions to the party, finding the right piece of furniture for the living room, the best price on airfare for our vacation, or the best new restaurant in our neighborhood. In all these things, we’re after information. And finding that information quickly and reliably is what creates an exciting and satisfying experience on the web. This is the message that we should be evangelizing to our clients.
I’ve seen many clients get all worked up over the specifics of their sliders and other peripheral elements of the site. Things move too fast, too slow, aren’t quite the right color, or are cropped funny. Often, clients think that once they’ve gotten these things just right, they’ve successfully created interest and engagement on their site. Often, these sites launch and are never updated because we’ve allowed our clients to remain focused on presentational aspects of the website instead of quality of content and ease of information. We haven’t done the job we should in educating them that it’s the information that creates engagement on the web.
Information is Exciting
Sliders certainly aren’t the web’s most egregious sin, but they’re often an easy way of avoiding more complex problems that we ought to be addressing. So next time a client is fixated on creating movement on their website, let’s take it as an opportunity to evangelize that well-organized, up-to-date content is what their users want to interact with. It’s the information that’s exciting, and efforts to create an immersive experience on the web often end up interfering with that.