Sliders and calendars suck, so why do people keep using them?

There are three things that regularly happen in web design trends right now:

  1. Parallax design (backgrounds or other page elements that move slower or faster than other parts on the page)
  2. Photo sliders at the top of the page
  3. Using 30 day grid-style calendars to lay out upcoming events

I wish they’d all go away.

Parallax design is a style, but it’s indicative of bad style

Parallax design is cool. It really is. It’s a fun way of incorporating a little bit of “wow” into what are otherwise mundane sites. But the thing I notice about parallax design is that every time I visit a site with it, I can’t extract any useful information out of the site.

It’s like parallax effects are icing on a hollowed-out cake. There’s probably some great sites out there, of course, but I can’t help but get the impression that parallax design choices are done by great designers with no particular interest in making or pushing for actually good content.

Photo sliders reinforce the notion that “people don’t read”

I want you to think back to the last time you went to Amazon and the last thing you bought. Maybe it was a book, maybe it was a shirt, maybe it was a sex toy. Whatever it was, when you did a search and then found something interesting, did you blindly buy it? Or did you read the description, compare features, check the ratings, and compare reviews?

Unless it’s something incredibly specific, like a collector’s item, you most likely read every last word about the product. People read. People just don’t read crappy useless text. Steve Jobs said people don’t read, but that was in relation to an iPad that didn’t exist yet, just like his famous “No one wants to watch a video on a 3.5″ screen,” when they didn’t have iPod Nanos with video screens yet.

The same goes for books, magazines, and Twitter streams. You read what’s interesting and good.

Photo sliders take up a bunch of space at the top of a site, and we’ve used them plenty of times by client request and because some of our older sites used them when they were new and we didn’t know better. But today if we design a new site, I’m likely to eschew the slider.

Without a slider, content is pushed up on the page, and if one is warranted for some reason — like needing to display a promo piece of some sort — it doesn’t have to be full-width. It can be in one or two thirds of a page.

Yesterday I was reviewing sites for real estate companies, firms, and housing complexes. All of them have the same feel: here’s a big house, and a big thing of text off to the side that says something like, “Welcome to your new home”, or “Life is good”. There’s often not much else. It’s just a pretty picture. A better idea would be a smaller photo with a headline that reads: “In a city of 2 million, the nearest crime to our neighborhood was over 12 miles away 6 months ago. Live safely at such-n-such”, with a sub-head that reads, “Homes starting at $350,000. Check out the listings…”

Calendars are a crime against usability

Speaking of crime, the 30 day calendar layout works great for one medium: paper. For anything else, it’s an awful crime. It’s a lot like the calculator on your computer. If you open your calculator app, it looks a lot like a real world standalone calculator. But why? That’s not useful at all, because anyone that’s ever tried using a mouse to click those numbers knows it’s a chore.

Calendars are the same way. Take this week. March 31st was Monday. On Monday any time I looked at a date picker or calendar, I was left thinking, “Wait, tomorrow’s a new month, so I’ve gotta click over to that.” A whole window showed me nothing but 30 days in the past I didn’t care about at the expense of the next 4 days in the work week that I did care about. 30 day calendar layouts should go the way of the Soviet Union.

There’s another big downside that I often find myself telling clients that results in a big head nod: unless you have consistent events scheduled for at least every 2-4 days, you’ll look like a loser. If you’ve got 30 squares to fill up and you’re filling an afternoon on two of them, it makes you look inactive. Instead, just put a list together:

April 12, 2014: Thunder over Louisville
April 19, 2014: Justin’s birthday

“Oh neat, he’s got two things coming up.” vs. “Oh, there’s just the two things.”

It’s a big difference.

About the author

Justin Harter

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