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Can one display too much information in an app? Does providing more than simply vital information divert the user or can one simply place the information judiciously.

Take a messaging app for an example. The information of who has checked the message is available in the back-end. Should this information be displayed on the main screen; or after a user input, such as a long press; or not at all?

Please refer to general case and not only to this example.

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The simple and nearly 'objective' answer is: Yes.

Here's a example that proves the rule (reductio ad absurdum): an entire non-zoomable wiki page on a mobile screen.

wiki

With that out of the way, maybe a more helpful answer starts by rephrasing your question to:

Can one display too much information relative to the user's needs?

As with most things UX, it really helps to provide the right point of reference. I think the answer to this is also yes, for the following reasons:

  • Information comes at a cost to the user. That sounds unintuitive, but the simple way to think about this is: every piece of information displayed, no matter how small, goes into the eye and gets processed by the brain. That is processing time that could be spent elsewhere (e.g. for a messaging app, would you rather have the user process who read the message, or instead spend that time replying to the message?). Users have a limited span of attention, so your job as a designer is to help the user spend that attention wisely.

  • Having information is not a reason to display it. This should be obvious, but it's a classic design trap. There is plenty of other information available to you on the server-side: the IP address of the user, their location, the number of requests made, the date they joined, etc. Rephrasing the question relative to the user's needs may help you figure out what information to show and what to hide.

  • Less is more. Having less information on a page heightens a user's focus on that information. To be honest this is a rephrasing of the first point above, but it's important enough that it's worth an additional angle.
    For example, if you're building a messaging app and your focus is on providing users with an engaging and addictive experience, you will want to focus the user's attention on the conversation rather than on any other information. So the bias would be to show just the conversation and the names of people. Now, in order to gamify the experience you may decide (like Google Hangouts and Facebook) to show who has read the last message, to provide a sense of immediacy. But that decision needs to be taken in the context of the user's needs ("users will need this to feel like the conversation is in real time") rather than just because that information is available.

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I think the answer is pretty obvious, but let's address a general problem. I will refer to Edward Tufte and Leonardo da Vinci

Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. Leonardo da Vinci

enter image description here

(source)

Principles of Visual Data Presentation

The principles of effective information design are as old as classical rhetoric. Indeed, in the words of Edward Tufte, the great sage and prophet of visual data presentation, "they are universal-like mathematics-and are not tied to unique features of a particular language or culture." In essence, they are the very principles that underlie all successful communication, namely:

  • Clarity
  • Emphasis
  • Economy
  • Order
  • Harmony, Balance, Rhythm, and Proportion

(source)

I think simplicity and clarity is a key.

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Simple is better. Display only vital information or information that users will want to access regularly. It's what every major website has been moving towards.

While I don't have a "user profile" example, look at these screenshots of iStock as a case study:

Original

Early iStock

Look how much information is on that page! Where do you go? What do you pick to read? Frog face, Startup Bundle, How iStock Works, login and then a help center. Tiring!

Redesign

New iStock

Each "frame" (as in, how much the user can see at once) on the new site has one purpose. Search, then categories, then #repicture. Users know exactly what to do to access pictures - the primary goal.

Sure, they may be curious about the credit system - which the new layout doesn't show - but they will know that this is more obscure information and will need to "dig down" to find it.

It's similar with account profiles - there are aspects people will want to access straight away, like iStock's search button. There will be some people interested in looking at more obscure info - like when they last logged in to the website. But showing this to everyone is alienating.

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