I can highly recommend the recent article by Cockburn et al. "Supporting Novice to Expert Transitions in User Interfaces" (ACM Computing Surveys, Vol. 47, No. 2, Article 31, Publication date: November 2014) but the research it reviews is almost exclusively about point-and-click interfaces that are trying to make small improvements in user performance.

What if you are trying to get users to be motivated to learn a new set of functionality in the app that they didn't even know they would want?

As well as general research in this area, I'd also like to know if there is research or best practice about when to explicitly encourage the user to try something new.

When they open the app (like a Tip of the Day?) or just as they quit? If so, every time they open or quit the app, or spaced out, or randomly?

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    So many questions, so little formatting :p could you perhaps refactor the question a little bit, as it doesn't encourage me to explore the rest of your question? Thank you :-)
    – Xabre
    Aug 24, 2015 at 20:16
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    Can you break this question into several smaller ones?
    – Mayo
    Aug 24, 2015 at 20:38
  • I am new to StackExchange; what's the best way to break this question down? Split it into two of the same question, one looking for research articles and one looking for best practices? Maybe I shouldn't have started with the great article I already found and answered my own question with that article but said why it wasn't sufficient? Thanks for any suggestions you can give. Aug 24, 2015 at 21:34
  • Microsoft Windows displays a message when I open Adobe Reader, telling me "Did you know you have newer apps that can open this file?" That definitely worked to get me to explore the new app.
    – JeromeR
    Aug 25, 2015 at 11:21
  • @JeromeR, thanks for the example that worked for you. Did it come up every time you opened Adobe Reader and stop after you explored the newwer app? (Windows is not sending me that message, so I can't reproduce it on my machine.) Aug 25, 2015 at 13:46

3 Answers 3


TL:DR Living With Complexity is a great book by Don Norman that tackles this subject from a couple of different angles.

One of the big ideas from the book is that you can abstract complexity into the underlying processes of a system to make it more usable for the end-user but you then increase the potential points of failure in that system and make it harder to maintain over time and with increased scale.

He also talks about the complexity that is required in relation to mastery of a professional using the example of a commercial airline pilot and the controls they master over time in order to become experts in navigating and using such a crucial system.

Finally, he posits that complexity is not necessarily a problem, confusion is.

My big takeaway was that we should always attempt to use existing mental models and some level of conventionality to create meaningful and universal heuristics in our designs.

If you are working on expert vs beginner flows in a digital application, this would be a great book to help solidify some of the underlying concepts of dealing with complexity in general.

Good luck!


Anything in regards to user behavior should be researched as such. Look into articles that specifically talk about what motivates users in general.

Also take into consideration that depending on how broad or narrow your audience is, will help to narrow this down as well.

Some sample articles that may help you on your way. They are not specific to your question, but they may help give you the insight needed to discover the answer. :)

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/priming/ https://www.nngroup.com/courses/credibility-and-persuasive-web-design/

Human behavior studies as well may help you. Also check into articles about color theory and culture bias. Knowing and understanding the human mind improves your understanding of the users you wish to target.


All of the following is a guide for what not to do, which might leave best practices more obvious, but still utterly subjective.

TL;DR don't bother reading if you're looking for an obvious, objective answer, this question is, as stated above, utterly subjective. And best practices of software design ultimately conflict with any attempts to answer the question.


This is an interesting question because Microsoft has made a terrible effort at answering this question with their Ribbons in Office. And then successfully patented these fucking things.

That's insult to injury. Salt in the wound. etc.

Their stated goal was to make discovery of features and functionality easier and faster, but they did it in such a way that they put off the people that did know how to use more of the software, by removing the original processes of use, and adding steps to doing most things, too. Moronic in the extreme.

Microsoft has continued down this path with Windows 8's changes to the entire UI/UX and Windows 10 is not significantly better.

This is the biggest single example of what not to do, in the most prominent and dominant software on earth. So it's important to consider and learn from their lessons. Even though they haven't. And won't.

Similarly, "tip of the day" went out of style when Shareware did. Now it's just another window to click through that nobody wants to deal with, and is annoying.

Mastery is something that has to be encouraged. That means you must describe the benefits and find ways to entice the users to seek and find the powers of an app. This is as much marketing and advertising as it is UI and UX design.

Ice sculpture with chain saws is a really good example of this done right.

Interactive prototypes made with Apple's Keynote are similar.

Apple's Pages process of culling features is another wrongful step. Just because a lot of users don't use all the features doesn't mean they weren't the ones shepherding, teaching and otherwise guiding the majority of your users.

Odd how both Microsoft and Apple constantly move towards less concern for the ambassadors and thought leaders amongst their user bases, despite going in different directions in other aspects of their approaches.

Which leaves me with a very subjective answer: your UI and UX should empower simplistic and unmotivated users as much as possible without compromising the UI and UX for power users and those able to discover and learn on their own.

Perhaps I'm saying you have to accept that people come at tools with different objectives, talents and confidence levels, too.

And make videos about ice sculpting with your app.

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    And how exactly does this answer OP's question? Apr 2, 2016 at 7:32
  • I can see how you'd be confused, Ben. The question is not particularly clear. Let me point it out for you, since the OP has hidden it with a 10th dan zen guru level ruse to avoid SO moderation.
    – Confused
    Apr 2, 2016 at 9:52
  • "What if you are trying to get users to be motivated to learn a new set of functionality in the app that they didn't even know they would want?"
    – Confused
    Apr 2, 2016 at 9:53
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    How can you say there is no research? The OP linked to research in the question! Your verbose answer is not as clever as you think it is...
    – Midas
    Apr 2, 2016 at 22:30
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    There are two parts to the question. 1. Is there any research 2. are there any best practices. There is no research.Then I go into detail on how any attempts to use the UI and "discoverability and disclosure" for marketing of an app's features and functionality are at odds with the best practices and ideals of UI and UX design, and will so greatly compromise the UX that there's no gain to be made in this approach. Some massive and poignant examples are then provided. It is all wrapped in a failed attempt at comedic displays of disdain and significant reproach for this type of user treatment.
    – Confused
    Apr 4, 2016 at 9:27

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