Progressive disclosure is a method of balancing two contradicting requirements, simplicity and completeness, via a simple, yet powerful idea: (1) initially, show users only a few of the most important options and (2) offer them a larger set of specialized options upon request by disclosing additional features only if a user asks for them or needs them.

Progressive disclosure improves usability basic components such as learnability, efficiency, and error rate.

Presenting the right information to the user at the right time reduces the cognitive load, the visual stress and choices that a user has to deal with. It decreases the use of screen estate, and gives a nice flow of information reaffirming the user that he is on the right track.

Current forms of progressive disclosure are such user interface patterns and techniques as collapsible panels and lists, module tabs, accordions, advanced options, selection dependent inputs, mega menus, responsive disclosure and responsive enabling, gradual engagement etc.

The rise of mobile devices forced interface designers to deal with presenting a lot of information on small displays. Progressive disclosure got a second wind on mobiles as a suitable technique to keep a good flow of information through a small viewport.

Progressive disclosure is one of the oldest interaction design techniques dating back to the first commercial WIMP interface, the Xerox 8010 Star system released in 1981. Its designers considered progressive disclosure to be a major design principle dictating that detail be hidden from users until they ask or need to see it.

 

Continuous Scrolling – an example of progressive disclosure

Continuous Scrolling is a user interface pattern which is an example of progressive disclosure. Continuous Scrolling is a single-page alternative to Pagination pattern. The first section of a long list gets loaded, and when user scrolls down, he sees a progress indicator (usually in circular form by analogy with browsers’ progress indicator for loading webpages) at the bottom, while the list automatically loading its next section. The user stays on one page and stops scrolling down, when he has “had enough”. This pattern is useful when it is not known in advance how long the list will be or when it’s “bottomless”.

LinkedIn uses Continuous Scrolling. Copyright © LinkedIn. All Rights Reserved. Used without permission under the Fair Use Doctrine.

 

Progressive disclosure embraces several good design principles

  • Advocate for users with different needs (experienced and non-experienced users);
  • Limit what you show on a screen;
  • Give access to the low hanging fruit and de-emphasize infrequent tasks;
  • Only show users what they need when they need it;
  • Focus the interface on making the user successful at the start.

Benefits of Progressive Disclosure

  • Remove the need for the user to explore and examine the interface first;
  • Allow the user to chunk the task in a sequence that matches their expectation;
  • Reduce cognitive overload;
  • Increase the efficiency and ease of use of the site.

Dangers of Progressive Disclosure

  • Users are forced to wait until you are ready to show them;
  • Repeat use may not require progressive disclosure (depends on the task);
  • Over-constraining what users see (or dumbing it down too much);
  • Assuming you understand what is the most popular, common or important task.

Top image/screenshot: Copyright © Microsoft. All Rights Reserved. Used without permission under the Fair Use Doctrine.

 

 

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