How to use content sliders in web design

Content sliders, aka carousels, are ubiquitous in contemporary web design, and for good reason. They are simple to set up, totally customisable to the look and feel of your site, and allow you to showcase creative content in a relatively small footprint.

Designers love them because of their flexibility – making it easy to tell a compelling story – and website owners love them because they can promote multiple elements of their business in a simple site element. Done right, sliders look good and bring a visual punch to any site.

Sliders are easy to add to most websites and there are plenty of options out there, particularly for WordPress users. But a slider isn't always the answer, and for every gorgeous slider there are hundreds of eyesores, or worse, unusable sliders. So when is the right time to use one? We’ve put together a list of the seven best times to use a content slider.

01. Product tours

Sliders are made for product tours. When presented all at once, large quantities of information can overwhelm visitors; they're less likely to get distracted if it’s broken down into more manageable pieces. Consider using a slider when information needs to be presented sequentially, like in these product tours.

Sliders in web design: Square

Credit card app Square makes good use of sliders on its website

Consider these two examples. Square (above) is a device used by companies to accept credit cards through smartphones and other devices. Its site uses sliders throughout to explain the variety of ways to use the service and highlight the individual features and benefits.

Sliders in web design: Shoe advisor

UserOnboard walks visitors through apps’ onboarding flows - step-by-step

Another example is UserOnboard, a site that’s devoted to showcasing examples of well-designed user onboarding flows for web and mobile apps. The purpose of this site is a natural fit for the sequential communication style of this topic.

02. Highlighting new content

Sliders are the ideal vehicle for sites that are regularly updated. If you access your news online each morning, you probably encounter content sliders on a daily basis; in fact, this is one of their most common implementations.

Sliders in web design: Discovery uses a slider to keep visitors up to date with the latest content

Take a cue from the homepages of popular news and television networks, such as The Discovery Channel (above) and Hulu (below). Media sites such as these often rely on sliders to showcase an ever-changing lineup of new and popular articles and videos. They're great for when you want to deliver lots of content – especially video content – that changes frequently.

Sliders in web design: MTV adds new video content frequently, so a slider is ideal for showcasing it

03. Photo galleries

Photo galleries shine in sliders. Sometimes a great image (or several) is all that's required to communicate everything you need to say about your brand. Whether it's a handful of full-page high-resolution images or several smaller ones, when you need to display a photo gallery, a slider is a great way to do so.

Sliders in web design: Regent College

Regent College's site employs an automatic horizontal slider

To highlight both the natural beauty of its location and the diversity of its students, Regent College (above) uses an automatic horizontal slider with unique design elements as an appealing homepage element.

04. Online portfolios

Because they're suited to showcasing visual content, sliders have become the standard in online portfolios for artists of all kinds, from photographers to graphic designers to web developers. In very little space, sliders allow you to creatively display almost any type of work to potential clients.

Sliders in web design: Büro Maisengasse

Büro Maisengasse's slider mimics a clothes line

Büro Maisengasse (above) uses one of the most fun sliders yet. Use the arrows to navigate horizontally and projects zoom past as if being tugged along a clothes line.

Sliders in web design: Idyllic Creative

Headway Themes’ slider is simple and efficient

Headway Themes uses a simple horizontal slider, placed lower down on the homepage, to showcase websites that have been built with its theme.

05. Ecommerce

Sliders are an excellent choice for showcasing products in ecommerce. Whether you want to display the full range of products, showcase a select few to communicate your aesthetic, or highlight the newest additions to the line, examples of sliders used in ecommerce are plentiful.

Sliders in web design: CXXVI

The Seattle Cider Company’s slider matches the brand's aesthetic perfectly

Cider brewer The Seattle Cider Company’s homepage slider uses a minimalist navigation to showcase a curated selection of products, successfully communicating its crafted aesthetic.

Sliders in web design: Park La Fun

Hush's slider showcases new and popular products

Hush’s site features a clean, minimalist and full page horizontal slider that showcases new and popular products.

06. Text snippets

Sliders aren’t limited to visual content. They are also handy when you need to display a series of related snippets of texts or communicate some written information about your site.

Sliders in web design: The Barrelhouse Flat’s slider draws attention to its testimonials from influential companies makes a big deal out of their testimonials on its homepage, giving each rave review its own slide in the slideshow. 

Sliders in web design: Heath Waller

Heath Waller's contact page slider acts as an online business card

The homepage for web designer Heath Waller, shown above, functions much like a business card. A beautiful, minimalist horizontal slider presents important information and links over images.

07. Storytelling

What sliders are really great at is telling a story. Google uses a slider for their promotional book for Chrome. Some transitions have a whimsical page-turning effect that’s perfect for this medium.

Sliders in web design: Storytelling

A slider is used to turn pages in a pseudo-ebook

20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web (above) utilises the slider to turn pages of the pseudo-ebook. The function eases users into reading as the text feels manageable in small increments on separate slides.

So there you have it. Seven ways and 13 examples of how sliders can bring your site to life, engage visitors, and create a memorable experience that turns visitors into customers and advocates.

The best way to get started is to browse the examples, then pull up your site and think about the different ways that a slider might give your content the fresh coat of paint you need to take your site to the next level.

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Jason Amunwa is a marketing & UX expert, and software entrepreneur. He’s helped build multiple software products, including SlideDeck, one of the best free content slider plugins for WordPress, and Filament, which was acquired by ShareThis.