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Many sites/apps will show users buttons or links for options that the user currently doesn't have permission to use. When the user clicks an unavailable feature, a popup saying "You can't use this feature until you upgrade to Pro!" will appear in many cases.

I know UX needs to be paid for, but is this practice going too far?

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This is fine to a point (introducing premium features in context is a good way of demonstrating the benefits) as long as you don't lead the user down a path with a dead end. Don't let a user invest time and energy in something that you know they can't complete without upgrading.

It would be a very bad experience if, for example, you allowed a user to start a long multi-step form process, spending lots of time answering questions and entering content, only to announce at the end "oh, by the way, you need to upgrade before you can complete this."

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Following this, do you approve of a checkbox in the "You can't use this..." popup giving the user the option to "Disable all premium features"? – dom Sep 3 '13 at 2:16
@dom Yes, that sounds like a nice solution. – Matt Obee Sep 3 '13 at 8:03

I don't think that's a good idea. Here is why:

  1. When you display the links to unavailable features and they look same as available features, the user doesn't know the difference. So they expect to work the same way. Now they click a feature, and realize it's unavailable. That's the first breakdown. User doesn't feel in control and their expectation was set higher and experience/offering did not match that.
  2. Second, now they do not know which link is which. Over some usage, they would learn, but they have to remember. That's extra cognitive load.
  3. Third the constant dispaly of unavailable features is a reminder of what they don't have. Not a good experience

Goal is to inform the user that there is more that might be of value to them. Instead, you can display a message or a box on the right saying there are additional features available. The user should be able to dismiss if they don't care. This is important to avoid annoyance factor but also to keep user in control.

The messaging area then also becomes a way to communicate newer offerings in future - a conversation channel with the customer.

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+1 'Not a good experience' but exactly for that reason a pretty good marketing ploy. With regard to marketing and selling it doesn't help to hide the features not currently available. However, I do agree that the reminder of what the user is missing should be less intrusive than a popup. SE does put up a popup when you try to vote as a "not logged in" user, but does provide you with the means to create an account then and there and of course you don't have to part with any money to do so. – Marjan Venema Aug 31 '13 at 11:00
Ah, I like your phrase "Cognitive Load". Sounds like a good way to communicate the cost of complexity without offending anyone. I'm not certain that you coined it, but I haven't heard it before, so hat's off anyway. – dom Sep 3 '13 at 2:14

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