A perceived advantage of graphical user interfaces over text user interfaces is the ability they give to the user to explore the set of functionalities available and exposed through menus and icons.

The apparition of toolbars and more recenlty of “the ribbon” in graphical user interfaces hints that users do not appropriately explore software functionalities.

How can one encourage users to explore software functionalities?

(As a side question, is anyone able to quote numbers or references for the statement “users do not appropriately explore software functionalities”?)

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    The question seems to imply that exploring functionality is a good thing. Why should a user break their workflow to explore anything? If some functionality is required, it should be pretty obvious. If it's not obvious, a) users may not have the time to look for it and will probably download some other software and, b) users may think it must be some "advanced" setting in case something breaks down. So, the question of workflow should come before the exploration one.
    – ekapros
    Feb 6, 2014 at 12:46
  • What if the advanced features save a lot of time? Feb 6, 2014 at 13:48
  • In general you want to design for the intermediate user, yes advanced features will save time but most likely the user will be motivated enough to seek that functionality out themselves. Feb 6, 2014 at 14:07
  • @ekapros The question starts with A perceived advantage… so the statement is more a premise than an implication. Some software are graphical front-ends to command line utilities, so the only advantage they might have is exposing many software options and functionalities in a visual manner.
    – user40989
    Feb 6, 2014 at 15:17
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    OP: Fair enough. @firedrawndagger I asked some questions to make the point that the workflow question should probably come before the exploration one; apart from that, I do have potential answers myself.
    – ekapros
    Feb 6, 2014 at 16:08

6 Answers 6


Here are a number of approaches that are used with gamification:

Unlocking Features

What you can try to do is an approach as done in games. First the player is only exposed to few features (such as one type of Angry Bird). Also the player at this time doesn't know much about the game and how it works. The same can nowadays be assumed in business or any other software, as nobody is reading the manual anymore. Once the player is familiar with the exposed features, the system unlocks new features (another bird type pops up in Angry Birds). And so on.

This follows the Flow theory from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, where skill and complexity are in a balance.


With having unlocked the features, users then may have a publicly displayed skill reputation, as used in professional communities such as StackOverflow or SAP Community Network. Learning new skills should be encouraged to become an integral part of working by having the users maintain their reputation status. In addition if this is visible to the HR and management, this can also be used as basis for promotions and bonus.


Microsoft used a narrative to encourage users to discover new features in their Office package. Users could download an Office plugin called Microsoft Ribbonhero and discover new features, and even branching out to the other Office applications. The gamification design elements in addition to the narrative were little quizzes.

Also some gamified compliance training approaches use narratives,such as TrueOffice. When you need to get trained on financial fraud/security etc., they system puts you in the role of a detective (think Miss Marple) and suddenly learning new features becomes fun. Remember the game "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" That game taught geography...


To answer your side question: indirectly, the numbers that are displayed in the facts & figures sheet give an indication that there can be much done so that users learn better. Search for the learning-related examples and then you can see that there is a lot that can be improved with gamification.

Why they are not exploring new features today can be manifold. Exposure to too many features from the beginning make the frustrated, and fear to 'destroy something', not understanding the value of features, not even knowing that they are there, no time to explore and play with them.

  • Although gamification is a way to achieve what the OP wants, you should rephrase your answer a bit to connect all the information that you posted to the question. Right now, it is just a bunch of elements, true or not, that you mention, but there is not even an introductory paragraph with something like "one way to encourage users is using gamification methods, like ..."
    – PatomaS
    Feb 24, 2014 at 6:25
  • The “facts and figures sheet” link seems obsolete. Maybe you could fix it?
    – user40989
    Feb 24, 2014 at 8:32
  • Corrected the Facts & Figures link, was a problem with & and how the Browser needs it. Should work now. Feb 24, 2014 at 17:18
  • Hi Mario, thank you for your detailed answer! It is comparable but more detailed than the one of New Alexandria, plus you provided that numbers!
    – user40989
    Jun 2, 2014 at 9:05

Consider the 'tip of the day' strategy, but make it more visual (picture is worth 1000 words). monitor clickthroughs per user and create re-emphasizing follow-up Tips to groups of users who skipped important feature 'lessons'.


If possible, overlay the normal UI with guide information, when the user clicks-through from the Tip.


The Tip can be provided to their email, corporate IM, or other contexts besides in-app.

Remember, with email, that filtering can occur. You can actually augment this process with filtering, but you must be conscious of it. Team members should encouraged to check such a box on a 1/wk or whatever schedule, and encourage everyone to do it so that you don't ahve to continually speak to split audiences on the same team.

But, Remember that if it does not get processed from their inbox, then 'out of sight, out of mind' principle can occur.


Others are answering on this route - so I will only say that Gamification is a very viable solution — but you cannot do it half-a$$ed.

  • I actually really like this idea. I'm looking forward to more answers to this question Feb 6, 2014 at 14:59
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    I also really like that idea. Email is not intrusive or distractive, because it can automatically be filtered, so it is a great option. I would also be interested in more answers!
    – user40989
    Feb 6, 2014 at 15:18

Although I would say toolbars and ribbons are not really "recent" anymore... look at games for incentives to explore. There's even "enterprise gamification" aiming at making it fun to explore software which is deemed boring until today:


  • Maybe gamification isn't popular, but why the downvote? Feb 6, 2014 at 13:47
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    Gamification is a very viable solution — but you cannot do it half-a$$ed. I didn't go into it because @virtualnobi answer is going that direction, and such discussions are verbose Feb 7, 2014 at 14:39

First, if your users aren't using the features, they're likely not as valuable as was imagined when your stakeholders requested them. Improving usage may not be worth much investment.

Next, you need to be sure if the features are actually being used or not. If you haven't already, instrument your application so you can collect user activity: screens displayed, time spent waiting for user input, keys pressed, and graphical elements clicked. You need to be able to accurately measure what features your users are actually using. At this point, go big with the data you collect, because you may find other uses for it.

Also, you need to know if your users actually want your features. You can record their requests through your help system, your documentation pages, calls to your help desk, and calls to your stakeholder. Menu clicks that don't lead to the actuation of features may indicate a frustrated user looking for something that either doesn't exist, or something they can't find.

Once you have solid usage figures, study the data around your seldom used features. Are they preceded by stray menu clicks? Longer than average delays? Are there indications your users struggle to find them, or to make them work? Is there more than an average amount of undo after it?


Have you considered gamification for exploring a new software release?

Gamification, gives the user 'points' or medals - in the case of this very site, it encourages exploration and usage and in return they get reputation, medals, points or in some cases small prizes depending on the incentive set out by the marketing team.

We are currently exploring the possibility of gamification in our software - this link was very useful:


It outlines the benefits of using this method. Not to mention it gives you an insight into user behaviour and how far they are willing to explore functionality when incentives are in place.


Many advanced features in a software program are aimed at simplifying certain tedious tasks. For example, in a text editor one can move the cursor around using arrows only, but it is more efficient to also use PgUp/PdDn and Ctrl+Left/Right.

The problem is that a user who doesn't know about the existence of PgUp/PgDn will unlikely go to a manual or call a helpdesk to search for this feature.

One possible (although challenging) approach is to let the software observe the user's behavior and deduce opportunities when a user can be taught something new. For example if the program detects that the user have pressed ArrowDown continuously to scroll the document, a helpful tip may pop up: "Hey, did you know you can use PgDn key on your keyboard to scroll faster? — try it out!".

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