Progressive Disclosure

Your constantly-updated definition of Progressive Disclosure and collection of topical content and literature

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What is Progressive Disclosure?

Progressive disclosure is an interaction design pattern that sequences information and actions across several screens (e.g., a step-by-step signup flow). The purpose is to lower the chances that users will feel overwhelmed by what they encounter. By disclosing information progressively, interaction designers reveal only the essentials, and help users manage the complexity of feature-rich websites or applications.

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen defines progressive disclosure as a technique that “defers advanced or rarely used features to a secondary screen, making applications easier to learn and less error-prone.” Progressive disclosure follows the typical notion of moving from “abstract to specific,” including the sequencing of user behaviors or interactions. In other words, progressive disclosure is not just about displaying information from abstract to specific. At the practical level, encouraging the user to move from completing simple actions or tasks to executing more complex ones is what lies at the heart of the philosophy. Disclosing more complex, secondary features only if a user asks for them provides a two-tiered environment where most users can proceed with their tasks effectively and efficiently. This allows casual users to proceed without frustration while keeping advanced users satisfied with higher-end functionality.

Progressive disclosure is a concept that has been used since at least the early 1980s. The technique gained the attention of user interface specialists through John M. Carroll and Mary Rosson’s lab work at IBM in 1983, where they found that hiding advanced functionality early on led to an increased success of its use later on. Appreciating the user’s state of readiness is vital for designers working in all industries. By gearing a design around the notion that approachability and ease of use must take precedence over intricate use possibilities during engagement with a user, interaction designers can greatly improve the chances of their products’ success.

Literature on Progressive Disclosure

Here’s the entire UX literature on Progressive Disclosure by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Progressive Disclosure

Take a deep dive into Progressive Disclosure with our course UI Design Patterns for Successful Software.

Who should take this course

This is a beginner-level course suitable for newcomers to user interface design and experienced practitioners alike:

  • UX and UI designers interested in using the right UI design patterns to create optimal product designs
  • Project managers keen on incorporating tried and tested UI design patterns to speed up and optimize the product development process
  • Software engineers looking to boost their skill sets and gain a foundational understanding of user interface design
  • Entrepreneurs who want to make sure their products have the appropriate user interface for maximum success
  • Newcomers to design who are considering making a switch to UX or UI design

Courses in the Interaction Design Foundation are designed to contain comprehensive, evidence-based content, while ensuring that the learning curve is never too steep. All participants will have the opportunity to share ideas, seek help with tests, and enjoy the social aspects afforded by our open and friendly forum.

Learn and work with a global team of designers

When you take part in this course, you will join a global multidisciplinary team working on the course and the exercises at the same time as you. You will work together to improve your skills and understanding. Your course group will be made up of an incredibly diverse group of professionals, all of whom have the same objective—to become successful designers. It’s your chance to learn, grow, and network with your peers across the planet.

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