Not long ago I read an article (probably on Smashing magazine or A List Apart, but possibly elsewhere) about gradually simplifying and changing the emphasis of a ui over time. e.g on a first visit the login button is big with explanatory text. After a few return visits, it shrinks to a smaller button with an icon and no text, leaving room for an 'advanced features' tab.

I'm really struggling to find the article again because I have no idea what this approach to design is generally called (I thought it was reactive, but Google doesn't seem to agree). Can anyone put a name to it? Even point me in the direction of the article/other articles that explore approaches to doing it.

PS - apologies for using this site as a surrogate Google, but I really have tried and tried to find this article

  • Interesting question - I've been looking for research regarding learnability and the introduction of new features.
    – Sheff
    Mar 24, 2014 at 14:31
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about finding an article and not about UX. Mar 24, 2014 at 14:35
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    @wheresrhys - perhaps you could rephrase your question, asking about the process and effectiveness of gradually changing the UI over time, instead of just asking us to find an article. You can point out that you once read this article, and are still trying to find it... hinting to anyone who knows of it that re-linking it would be an appreciated part of the answer. Mar 24, 2014 at 15:09

4 Answers 4


The technique is called progressive reduction. Basically, it's a hand holding approach to designing interfaces for users. Over time you "reduce" the UI elements in your application as the user naturally learns and understands the system. Thus the interface adapts along with the users knowledge and familiarity with it.

This may be the article you came across. Great read btw:

Progressive Reduction, by LayerVault

  • Yep that's the exact one. ta
    – wheresrhys
    Mar 24, 2014 at 16:58

It sounds like you may be looking for "Adaptive Interfaces" (Wikipedia) (not to be confused with Adaptive Layouts).

The term covers a broad range of approaches to changing the interface based on the user. It used to be called "Personalisation" in the academic literature in the early 2000's, so there should be some research about it available online.

The 2004 paper "A Comparison of Static, Adaptive, and Adaptable Menus" tested the usability of adaptive menus (the kind you typically found in MS Office 2003, although the study is performed in custom environment)

I was unable to find the article you referred to, but hopefully the research can help you in a similar way.


I think this is the article you are referring to: http://alistapart.com/blog/post/progressive-reductionmodify-your-ui-over-time

"The idea behind Progressive Reduction is simple: Usability is a moving target. A user’s understanding of your application improves over time and your application’s interface should adapt to your user."

  • Can you do an excerpt of the article?
    – Braiam
    Mar 25, 2014 at 2:21

"Training Wheels"

(as a reference to those extra wheels you can put on a kid's bike to stop it from falling over when the kid is learning to ride)

Here's Jakob Nielsen summarising an earlier paper on the topic.

(It was originally coined by John Carroll in 1984

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