Progressive Content for Progressive Reduction

Every new interface we come up with is also an exercise in instruction design. Designers typically leverage their user’s prior knowledge to create innovative experiences and help users learn how to navigate those those experiences. But how might we teach our users new, complex processes (or changes to their existing behavior) while still maintaining a simple UI? Last February Allan Grinshtein, an interaction designer at LayerVault, posited that because a user’s understanding of our application improves over time, our application’s interface should adapt. Others agree. Increasingly, designers are finding opportunities to design interfaces that better adapt, or personalize, their layouts and functions in accordance with their users’ individual knowledge—predominantly through progressive reduction and progressive disclosure. Progressive reduction is a theory that suggests that certain information should be diminished or simplified over time. This assumes that advanced users, who frequently access the application, will learn and remember basic functions and no longer need help text or additional labels. LayerVault shows how UI copy and design is personalized to different levels of user-expertise using the principle of progressive reduction. Image from LayerVault Blog. The insight behind progressive disclosure is similar: it relies on the belief that users need to have more complicated information ‘drip fed’ to them over a period of time. Jakob Nielsen puts it well: “Good usability includes ideas like progressive disclosure, where you show a small number of features to the less experienced user to lower the hurdle of getting started and yet have a larger number of features available for the expert to call up.” Progressive reduction and disclosure are theories that apply to presentation, but presentation...