I realized something today. I was looking at a new icon at Airbnb's site, and wanted to hover over it to see if there was anything hidden that would expose on hover: there was.

My question: How do users know when to hover to expose elements? Do they? Is that only because I'm an experienced user (also a UX Designer by profession)? I'm interested to see if any study was done on this matter.

  • 1
    I think in general, most anything that can be clicked can also be hovered. So however designers make it apparent that something could be clicked should also work to tell the user that the item can be hovered.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 18:49
  • That's interesting. But how about non-clickable icons, but on hover for information only? Like that icon I was talking about. You can't click it, and it certainly doesn't look like it can be clicked. I just hovered over it because I've never seen it before and was wondering if hovering will display anything. My assumptions were correct. I'm just worried that such an interaction won't bode well with those who aren't as novice as I am.
    – UXerUIer
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 18:52
  • Hmm let me amend my statement. I think pretty much everything that looks clickable plus everything that doesn't look like plain text can generally be hovered. (B.T.W. I apologize if I am misunderstanding your intention, but I think you are using the word "novice" wrong. That word means "inexperienced," which is not the case if you are a UX Designer by profession.)
    – Daniel
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 18:56
  • Oops! I meant to say experienced. Thanks for catching that. I should probably change that in my answer. And no, not at all @Daniel , thanks for clarifying things.
    – UXerUIer
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 19:06
  • 4
    Note that touchscreens don't allow hovering. Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 20:24

4 Answers 4


They don’t! As web applications are more and more packed with information, the need to hide controls have emerged. The option would be to have even longer web pages, showing a lot of redundant controls for every post as in "unfollow post, unfollow updates from user X, unlike page, still like page but don't show updates, and on and on and on.

This has made designers hide controls and additional information which you can only access on hover. Sometimes these controls are in very long sequences on hover leading to hover leading to hover which if you eventually miss a spot, lose all the sequence in once and the user have to start over.

This leads to great cognitive load on the user making them frustrated and possibly leaving the site because they can’t handle it. And how do you hover from a tablet or smart phone web browser? This is one of the unsolved mysteries that web designers and UX professionals should deal with and make conscious choices of every step.

This is why we often access content from various sources: Desktop Computer, Tablet browser, Tablet App, Smartphone browser and Smartphone App. All of these is a part of cross channeling where users have to accept the fact that they can’t do everything on every device. I’m struggling with if this I the right choice almost every week.

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The idea is that a complete experience can be realised by jumping between channels at will.

For instance, a module on Task Analysis that is designed in such way that learners can choose a different media for each sub-module, and regardless the media choice their experience will be complete.

The authors do mention that it may not be possible to align all the steps between the various channels.

Content from the accepted answer to the question What is Cross-Channel?

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    This QnA is a great example of why the experience is different, and is better to be re-designed, for every medium; in other words why creating an adaptive/responsive website will not play the same for the user across all devices of arbitrary screen size Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 10:27

Big companies can get away with a lack of hovering, because they invent the standard for others to follow in.

Take Facebook for example. Half the links there aren't advertised as links. There's just so much data on a page that they can get away with providing links to pages with zero guidance.

People look forward to a standard they can use.. but most websites just invent their own method of link visibility. Take a look at this Stack Exchange site... If you didn't speak English you wouldn't know what part of a post can be clicked. Specifically post controls and commenting.


I can say that for non-touch interfaces, the hover action is more of a perceived affordance because we've been so used to it on the web. Mostly, users don't know when to hover but they actually do perceive it. According to the Hover invitation pattern, we can use hover to cue the user what is going to happen next. Here's an interesting article by Bill Scott about using the hover action on the web.

Hope this helps!


There is generally no way for a user to know if they can reveal something by hovering. More important, there is no way to hover on the vast majority of touch screen devices. This means that hover-and-drop-down menus for instance are completely unusable. I have this problem for years trying to access connection requests on LinkedIn on my phone. You can't hover to reveal the list of requests, and if you click the menu header, it takes you to a different page. Do not use hover unless absolutely necessary.

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