Carousels: Finally, One that’s All Grown Up

I’ve always been suspicious of web carousels, especially those that auto-rotate. That’s because the reader can’t control the rate at which information is disseminated*. They might want to look more closely, and POW! you’ve moved them onto the next graphic. Silly rabbit: Let the reader decide if and when to advance to the next slide.

But even if they don’t auto-rotate, they still make me itch, and that’s because there is little to no indication for the reader as to what they’ll find at their next stop. A few years ago, we saw many web carousels like this:

screenshot of state.gov

The navigation is simply “1 | 2 | 3” — and that means nothing. If I click on number 3, will it be a story about a troika? No. The numbers do not correspond to the content whatsoever. Why would I be compelled to click on the number 2 or the number 3? The Internet is not a gameshow, and as a reader, I’m not that interested in what lies behind your mystery door.

Here we see something a slightly better carousel, because it at least gives us a teeny tiny glimpse (literally) into the next story. But there is still much left to the imagination, and if you don’t have a visually compelling graphic (or more specifically a graphic that has compelling content in its right and left margins) then I’m not sure people will ride that carousel.

screenshot from foreignassistance.gov

A screenshot from ForeignAssistance.gov. This carousel is better, because it at least gives a tiny peek at the next story’s graphic and title. But it’s still a guessing game on the part of the reader.

What’s more, you don’t know how many stories are contained in the carousel, and where you are in the midst of those stories. At least the enummerated carousel on State.gov told you how many, even if it couldn’t tell you what.

In light of my feelings about web carousels, you may understand why I was delighted to see The Atlantic‘s lovely take on the old merry-go-round the other day. It’s a big improvement:

screenshot from theatlantic.com

A screenshot from The Atlantic’s website. This carousel is clear and honest.

It combines what’s good about the other two examples above. Namely, it shows scope in terms of quantity and content. Like the State.gov example, it indicates to us how many stories are contained in the carousel. Unlike the State.gov example, it goes beyond enumeration: it gives us the titles of each article in the carousel. It’s better than the ForeignAssistance.gov example, because we see the full title, and not just of the previous and next articles, but of all articles. And we see them at once, without having to hover or click around.

Now, I do see that the carousel auto-rotates, which I don’t really like, but at least the rotation pauses if I hover my mouse over it. It’s still a carousel that’d I’d hop on, and that’s a first. Kudos, Atlantic.

* Edward Tufte argues that PowerPoint is also an example of a technology that removes control over the rate of dissemination of information from the reader.

This is Broken: Office Door

I am a huge fan of Seth Godin’s This is Broken TED talk. He gives several examples of “broken” design, and talks about the different reasons things are broken.

In that spirit, I offer a morning observation of brokenness.

This sign is posted on an office door in the building in which I work. Here’s a transcription:

a closed door means...

A closed door means that at this moment the reception desk is not staffed.

Thus, knocking will serve no purpose.

We apologize for the lack of a phone or a buzzer at the door.

Your options are:

Contact the person you are supposed to meet with to ask them to let you in, or
Wait a minute for someone to come in or out.

I think Godin would classify this as “not my job” – someone felt they could make the sign, but didn’t feel that they could order a door buzzer installed (or just unlock the door). In any case, a locked door invites knocking, and this sign is an indication that knocking serves “no purpose.” Broken.