Carousels: advantages and disadvantages

Duncan Stephen
Friday 12 July 2013

This week, a series of articles about the advantages and disadvantages of carousels. We begin with a couple of articles from usability expert Jakob Nielsen.

Auto-forwarding carousels and accordions annoy users and reduce visibility

Carousels are often useful for organisations like Universities to use for political reasons – to get more information on prominent pages. But often this is at the expense of the usability of the page.

This study analyses how easy users find carousels, and the results are very poor. One major reason for this is banner blindness, the phenomenon whereby users avoid looking at anything that looks like it might be an advert. It includes the following remarkable finding about some core information that a user was looking for, that appeared to be in a prominent position:

The user’s target was at the top of the page in 98-point font. But she failed to find it because the panel auto-rotated instead of staying still.

When the UI is too fast

Jakob Nielsen has a cautionary tale on user interfaces that move too quickly, ultimately confusing and frustrating users.

This often happens in carousel, rotators, and other auto-forwarding design elements. Once you decide that something might be of interest, it’s yanked off the screen — replaced by something you don’t want.

This is particularly problematic for slower users, such as international customers who don’t read your language well or old or disabled users who might need extra time dealing with the user interface and are thus disproportionally harmed by rapidly changing screens.

Let’s establish a simple usability principle: avoid taunting the customers.


Another look at the pros and cons of using carousels, and how best to implement them.

From universities to giant retailers, large organizations endure their fair share of politics. And boy does that homepage look like a juicy piece of prime real estate to a roomful of stakeholders. It’s hard to navigate these mini turf wars, so tools like carousels are used as appeasers…

And finally…

Should I use a carousel?

This webpage demonstrates the point about carousels nicely.

All this is not to say that we should necessarily ban carousels completely. But we should think carefully about what the carousel would be for, and bear in mind the usability problems they may introduce.

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