We have profiles for our Web application holding a fair amount of data which takes up a lot of screen space. Each segment has related edit/remove buttons which clutter the screen and distract from content if they are all visible at the same time.
We are toying with the idea of revealing controls when hovering or focusing on a data segment. This behaviour can be seen on applications like Facebook, when hovering over items on the news feed (a drop-down or "remove" button appears.) Twitter also implement this on individual tweets. There are many other examples in the wild (comment features, forums etc.)
My concern is that there is no affordance to prompt the user to hover over/focus on an empty segment of data, and that creating such affordance will complicate the visual aesthetic. I don't want to create a barrier to learning how to use the interface, but really I don't know how much of a barrier this will create, and my assumption (dangerous) is that it's not a big deal. Unfortunately I am not our users.
Does anyone know how big a learning curve is introduced when controls are hidden from the user until they start interacting? Are there better options? Drop-downs have been considered, but purely lessening the visible 'clickable' elements is not optimal.