100 Things You Should Know About People: #33: Bite-Sized Chunks Of Info Are Best

Map of Portugal at tourism siteI am about to head to Portugal for a week, and I was interested in exploring different possible destinations in Portugal. I may not have much time for touring (I’m going to speak at the UXLX conference there), but if I did have time, where should I go? I have to admit to pretty much total ignorance about Portugal, the different regions, landscapes, and parts of the country, so I went to the official tourism web site for the country.

Give me a little bit at a time — The Portugal tourism site did an OK job of  what is called progressive disclosure. This is fancy term that is used in the field of psychology to refer to providing information in increasing chunks of size and complexity.

We can only handle so much — Humans can only process small amounts of information at a time (consciously that is… the estimate is that we handle 40,000,000 pieces of information every second, but only 40 of those make it to our conscious brains). One mistake that web sites make is to give too much information all at once, like this web site from the Canadian government:

Canadian government website with no progressive disclosure

There is no chunking here, there is not progressive disclosure. It’s just all the information thrown on the page all at once. The result? You don’t read it, you just leave.

Feeding bits of information — The Portugal site was just OK when it came to progressive disclosure. New Zealand does a much better job. The New Zealand tourism site has multiple levels of disclosure, feeding you the information bit by bit. Here’s the first page on the regions of New Zealand:

where I see the overall map and names of the different regions. If I hover over one of the regions in the list then I see a thumbnail of information:

Portugal site with thumbnail picture and info on a regionContinuing on with this idea of progressive disclosure, if I click on that region then I link to a page with more pictures and little more detail:

Detailed map of the region from the Portugal site

there is a big map and there are tabs to go to for more information. If I scroll down I’ll have details on the region:

Detailed information on the region from the Portugal site

This is a great example of how to use progressive disclosure.

It’s not the clicks that count (pun intended) — One thing I’d like to point out is that progressive disclosure requires multiple clicks. Sometimes you will hear people say that websites should minimize the number of clicks that people have to make to get to the detailed information. The number of clicks is not the important criteria. People are very willing to make multiple clicks, in fact that won’t even notice they are making the clicks, if they are getting the right amount of information at each click to keep them going down the path.

Think progressive disclosure, don’t count clicks.

Should I let the web site design influence whether I book a ticket? Not this time at least. This time I’m headed for Portugal, where I plan to use the Portugal tourism site as a case study in my workshop!


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11 comments on “100 Things You Should Know About People: #33: Bite-Sized Chunks Of Info Are Best
  1. Jeanne says:

    Thank you so much for giving a name to something that has bothered me about so many site designs. Many site creators are so caught up in making sure people know all their options that they don’t realize how overwhelming their final creation has become for those unfamiliar with the information. Stakeholders will actually fight for a link to their subsection of the site to appear on the home page, leading to the need for more links and more clutter. I will definitely remember this blog post the next time I am fighting those who want links to everything on the home page.
    .-= Jeanne´s last blog ..MARAC Spring 2010: Hurray for Archival Metadata (Session S2) =-.

  2. Susan Weinschenk says:

    Thanks for writing in Jeanne.

    It’s a powerful concept and I hope it helps in some of your future discussions!

  3. CT Moore says:

    Great insight for usability, copywriting, and information architecture.

    It also reminds of a Dr. Seuss quote:
    So the writer who breeds
    more words than he needs,
    is making a chore
    for the reader who reads.

    .-= CT Moore´s last blog ..The Choices We Make =-.

  4. Excellent blog. Thank you Susan.
    I have 2 travel ebooks on Australia and trying to work out what to include and how much info I should give can be challenging. Your assessment of the Canada and NZ websites was very insightful and gave me some great ideas.
    Best regards,
    Graeme Lanham.
    My blog: http://traveltipsaustralia.com/travelblog/
    PS. I am a subscriber to Joe Vitale’s newsletter and loved issue 49 on designing hypnotic websites.

  5. John says:

    This article is very helpful and important and I have to read more posts. Our website has the sections on the home page chunked; but I would like to know if that really helps visitors?
    .-= John´s last blog ..NEW Home Saging Business Kit! =-.

  6. Providing information in chunks can be a good way to educate the customer. I agree that it’s not a matter of clicking but of being given the right amount of information. A site owner must not put too much because this will overwhelm the customer.

  7. Chris Bradley says:

    I’m a content strategist at FindLaw, where we build websites for lawyers. Progressive disclosure is an interesting concept. One thing lawyers struggle with is how much information to provide a potential client at the outset. For example, if you practice bankruptcy law, you’ll know that there’s plenty of paperwork. Clients rely on the lawyer to streamline the process for them, but clients also need to be informed. I imagine the practice of progressive disclosure would work wonders for a debtor-client heading down the path toward bankruptcy. You could keep the client from being overwhelmed and intimidated.

  8. Tim Entwisle says:

    This is a very good concept to apply to website design and a bit of a paradigm shift, actually. I think you are right about the number of clicks not being important if the information is presented well and keeps the reader’s interest. Food for thought!

  9. Davereed says:

    I find it a little ironic that this article on UX has no link to a page where I can see all of the articles from this series in one place.

  10. Kenyon says:

    Just curious why when I click on the link in this article it takes you to a teaser page.

    Were you trying to make a point with this? Isn’t that a little excessive use of progressive disclosure? Not critiquing or trying to be an a$$, just asking.

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  1. 100 Things You Should Know About People: #33: Bite-Sized Chunks Of Info Are Best | something in the way says:

    […] 100 Things You Should Know About People: #33: Bite-Sized Chunks Of Info Are Best. Share: […]

  2. […] her post Bit-Sized Chunks Of Info Are Best Susan makes a point about progressive disclosure on Internet sites. Or, in other words, present […]

  3. […] aware of 40 out of the 40,000,000 bits of information that we’re processing per second. Source: What Makes Them Click […]

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