Monday, December 04, 2006

Progressive Disclosure

Progressively showing information to users ...

"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:

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.

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."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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