Design Principles: Progressive Disclosure

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Progressive disclosure is a strategy for managing information. Information is withheld from the user until it is necessary. This strategy is used to prevent information overload.

Universal Principles of Design; Lidwell, Holden, Butler


In the above example, there are two information layers.

  1. compact save dialogue
  2. expanded save dialogue

The compact save dialogue appears first and covers the majority of use cases. The expand button allows more information to come through for cases where the user needs additional functionality.

Framework Limitations

Progressive disclosure can also be a sign of a bottleneck or used as a device that hurts the user’s experience.

Bottlenecks

Progressive disclosure can be a sign that the display or feedback methods are too constrained. This is the case when the progression slows the user, rather than assist them.

Wikipedia

The musical instrument above is very powerful, but the interface is extremely limited compared to its abilities. This leads to what users describe as “menu diving”, where the user needs to dive through several layers of menus to get to the target action.

Dark Patterns

Progressive disclosure can also be used as a dark pattern, to limit the users on purpose and benefit someone else.

For example:

  • breaking up a website article into a series of slides in order to generate ad revenue
  • automated phone menus to filter requests and minimize the cost of human support staff