First off, your sketching skills put mine to shame. You’ve also reminded me I need to buy some new shading markers. Any suggestions?
Also, for anyone not familiar with the concept, here’s a rundown of progressive disclosure from NNgroup.com:
Summary: 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:
- Users want power, features, and enough options to handle all of their special needs. (Everybody is a special case somehow. For example: Who wants line numbers in a word processor? Millions of users, that’s who, including most big law firms.)
- 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.
Progressive disclosure is one of the best ways to satisfy both of these conflicting requirements. It’s a simple, yet powerful idea:
- Initially, show users only a few of the most important options.
- 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.
The print dialog box is the classic example of progressive disclosure. When you issue the command to print a document, you’ll get a dialog box with a small set of choices — mainly, how many copies to print, but possibly a few other variations, such as whether to print the entire document or a subset, and which printer to use. Sadly, print dialog boxes have grown bloated over the past decade, and some applications offer an initial dialog box with highly detailed options that would be better placed in a secondary dialog box.
The initial print dialog box typically contains one or more buttons for advanced options. These buttons lead to secondary dialogs that let users specify rarely used settings, such as scaling and printing the pages in reverse sequence. If the user clicks the advanced options button, the system discloses the additional features.
I work in a similar vein, in that my work deals with financial advisors and client management. Anything that you can do to increase the cognitive load is a plus.
I’ve found the most difficult exercise when designing a progressive disclosure system is identifying the functionality to expose first. In some screens and workflows, it’s apparent. In others, I’ve been surprised what my research has uncovered.