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Progressive Disclosure by Jakob Nielsen (Usability Expert)

I just read an article from Jakob Nielsen, a usability expert. The amazing article – Progressive Disclosure states that Progressive disclosure defers advanced or rarely used features to a secondary screen, making applications easier to learn and less error-prone.

Interaction designers face a dilemma:

Progressive disclosure is one of the best ways to satisfy both of these conflicting requirements. It’s a simple, yet powerful idea:


In a system designed with progressive disclosure, the very fact that something appears on the initial display tells users that it’s important.

For novice users, this helps prioritize their attention so that they only spend time on features that are most likely to be useful to them. By hiding the advanced settings, progressive disclosure helps novice users avoid mistakes and saves them the time they would have spent contemplating features that they don’t need.

For advanced users, the smaller initial display also saves them time because they avoid having to scan past a large list of features they rarely use.

Progressive disclosure thus improves three of usability’s five components – learnability, efficiency of use, and error rate.

Usability Criteria

There are two things you must get right when designing for progressive disclosure:

  1. First, make the mechanics of this operation simple. For a website, follow the guidelines for visualizing links. For an application, place the advanced features button in a clearly visible spot.
  2. Second, label the button or link in a way that sets clear expectations for what users will find when they progress to the next level. (In other words, the progression should have strong information scent.)

Managing Complexity

Progressive disclosure and staged disclosure are both strategies to manage the profusion of features and options in modern user interfaces. They are both more than 20 years old and have proven themselves useful in countless applications, and even some websites. Jacob urges us to try them – but stay aware of their weaknesses.

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