• anna singer

On carousels and making friends

During a recent site review, a client asked why I hadn’t mentioned their use of a carousel on the homepage. He was prepared to recount every reason for its existence and to list the number of times he’d unsuccessfully recommended removing it.

So why didn’t I mention it? For one, although carousel conversion rates generally don’t peak above 3%, there will always be an exception to the rule. Without the stats it’s unwise to make presumptions. However, the main reason is because I believe contentious issues such as carousels need to be approached with prudence, and that an initial site evaluation is not necessarily the best place to engage in what is inevitably going to become a complex discussion.

The carousel discussion was now underway and my expectations of said carousel were confirmed: conversion rates were painfully low. The carousel was an internally facing piece of work that satisfied various departments shouting out for some homepage real estate.

Attacking the existence of something that has arisen out of perceived necessity will almost certainly result in bad sentiment. And if you want people on side, it’s simple common sense not to put noses out of joint. I’m not suggesting we refrain from approaching difficult issues head on. I simply think there is a more intelligent and agreeable way of doing things. Business is a form of communication between people, and so my initial advice is to make friends; to go out for lunch and develop genuine connections with your colleagues. It goes a million miles towards understanding their motivations. Secondly, remember that you are all on the same team, despite your varying agendas and deliverables.

Focusing on the positive will almost always achieve better results. Instead of giving 10 reasons why not to use a carousel, give 3 insightful alternatives. Create an opportunity to innovate. Get the team excited. Get them involved! Create some project momentum!

Here’s my approach:

  • Reestablish the purpose of the homepage

  • Reconfirm your vision

  • Understand the various motivations of each department

  • Dig into the analytics

  • Set up the capability to A/B test

  • Go out for drinks

Reestablish the purpose of the homepage

A homepage should show the clear value proposition of the business. This clarity enables the user to make a quick decision on whether to continue reading. A one sentence tagline will do the trick. Multiple messages scrolling in a carousel will not. A clear call to action should be visible, but there should not be too many or the user will be overwhelmed with choice.

Allow the user to easily identify the core tasks on the site.

Reconfirm your vision

This goes hand in hand with having a clear value proposition on the website. Without a clear vision, your work is at risk of appearing disjointed. Get everybody on the same page with a game of ‘First tweet’: each person spends no more than 15 minutes coming up with a tweet that explains what the company does. The limitation of 140 characters forces you to be focussed. Share them and choose your 3 favourites to display in a prominent place in the office. Competitor benchmarking is also a really useful way to hone in on what your unique proposition is. What sets you aside from your competitors? What makes you special? When whole team is on the same page, the goals become less ‘department driven’, and more ‘company driven’.

Select one image to illustrate the company vision rather than 5 that clutter it.

Understand the various motivations of each department

This is a simple matter of business understanding and co worker respect. Understanding how the goals of the editorial department differ to those of marketing and sales encourages a more holistic approach to your own endeavours.

Dig into the analytics

Let’s remember that not all users arrive via the homepage, and that some journeys do not include the homepage as a touchpoint. Certain departments might hit more targets by interacting with power users, while others might be better off addressing new users. Look at how the users are interacting with the site. Where did they come from? What are they doing? If, for example, email signups are predominantly the result of social referrals, then it’s a good guess that these users are entering your site via content pages, and thus, it might be worth developing your proposition on these pages rather than via the homepage carousel.

After identifying areas of high traffic and/or user interaction, consider how these spaces might present more fruitful opportunities than the homepage.

Set up the capability to A/B test

It is not a productive use of time to debate whether idea A might be more successful than idea B. At this point it’s time to put the user research and assumptions to one side and actually ask the user. Track both ideas and use the quantitative data to judge which is more successful. If an idea flops, park it. Fail confidently without blowing the budget and without being too emotionally invested. It is easier to let go of an idea if you are less attached to it.

Fear is good for nobody’s soul: Innovation will only happen where it is safe to fail.

Go out for drinks

Celebrate the wins and share bewilderment at the fails. Opening up conversational channels will break down silos to give way for a more cohesive, buoyant working environment.

It’s never just business. As long as people are involved, it will always be personal.

image credit: https://robcartwrightphotography.wordpress.com/

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My folks are the ultimate UX practitioners. They made parenting look so darned simple (which, for the record, it's really not).

Behind my carefree upbringing was a complex structure that I couldn't see; a constantly evolving architecture of morality, ethics, education and boundaries. My folks had some pretty stern error messages too, but, I'll not lie, they were necessary. Their project is ongoing, but requires fewer updates these days.

I'm a London based practitioner bringing UX into real life, and real life into UX.