Progressive Disclosure

Interaction design dilemma

Users want power, features, and enough options to handle all of their special needs


Users want simplicity; they don’t have time learn a profusion of features in enough depth to select the few that are optimal for their needs.

A user might only want to change the icon name for their computer speakers, whilst another user might want to carry out more detailed changes, such as altering the speaker enhancements to suit their listening environment. How do you provide both users with sufficient means to complete these tasks without flooding the user interface with all the information related to these different tasks?- IDF

 Progressive Disclosure as a Solution

You should must to provide all features but you should to display immediately only what is important, giving to the user an way to move to the not so important features without to have to re-orient itself in the UI.

  1. Initially, show users only a few of the most important options.
  2. Offer a larger set of specialized options upon request. Disclose these secondary features only if a user asks for them, meaning that most users can proceed with their tasks without worrying about this added complexity.

You should ensures the user only has to attend to a confined region of the user interface and, at this region, you should devide the features into distinct, yet instantly accessible,  areas, showing one area at time.

Progressive disclosure defers advanced or rarely used features to a secondary screen, making applications easier to learn and less error-prone. – Jakob Nielsen

Each area represents a level of the features and the first area or level with the contain most important features and must to be immediately displayed.


Frequency-of-use statistics can help you prioritize the features and chose the most important to display in the first level area. But you have to discern whether a page gets many hits because users want it or because they simply enter the page by mistake.

The first display can’t contain:

  • too many options or you’ll fail to sufficiently focus users’ attention on truly important issues
  • confusing features or you’ll slow down user performance

Don’t forget it must be obvious how users progress from the primary to the secondary disclosure levels. Make the mechanics of this operation simple and label the button or link in a way that sets clear expectations for what users will find when they progress to the next level


  • Gives the user a sense of control over events in the user interface
  • Users see what they want
  • Users will see only the information related to the task that they are performing
  • Save the user from assessing the user interface in an attempt to tease out relevant information from the array.
  • The ability to convey exactly what is important to the user
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Promotes a better understanding of the system

Step-by-step Progressive Disclosure x All-Category-Options-at-Once Designs

Step-by-step progressive disclosure designs, such as those used when filling out online order forms, begin by showing the user a small set of options. Depending on this initial selection the user is shown further options specific to that first choice; constraining the user to only those options relevant to the current task and in accordance with previous choices. In contrast, all-category-options-at-once designs, such as the speaker settings panel, allow the user to move between different sub-sections as and when they please.

When to Use or Not?

Progressive disclosure must only be used where all of the necessary information for a particular task can be displayed in full view in one section of the user interface and there is no benefit to displaying information from different sections together

One potential pitfall is using progressive disclosure when the user is meant to compare different sets of information. If data sets are placed in different sections of a panel, window or web page, skipping between these locations interrupts the comparative process and forces the user to rely on what they can recall from the previous, now out of view, section. Short-term memory is very limited, with an approximate capacity of 7 distinct items and an estimated duration of 18 seconds.


  • User only has to attend to a confined region
  • Devide the features into distinct, yet instantly accessible,  areas
  • Provide all features but display immediately only what is important
  • The immediately displayed area is the first level with the most important and most frequently used features
  • The secondary levels contains more advanced features and consequently less frequently used features
  • Give to the user an way to move to the not so important features without to have to re-orient itself in the UI.
  • Make applications easier to learn and less error-prone.


Nielsen Norman Group – Progressive Disclosure (

Interaction Desgin Foundation – UI Design Patterns for Successful Software  (


by Máximo Riera / from

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