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    I’m looking into redesigning/rearchitecting a site where well-meaning content owners have decided to use hide/reveal functionality extensively to (try to) hide the fact that their pages are poorly written and badly organized.

    Intuitively I believe this is a horrible abuse of a UI construct that can be effective when used sparingly. (It doesn’t help that the “developers” have no clue how it actually works, and there’s no visible indicator other than a link.) But I can’t just say “don’t do it because it bugs me.”

    I need some concrete guidelines/best practices about when and how to use hide/reveal – and more importantly when not to. I’m having a really hard time finding anything.

    Any thoughts here?


    I’m struggling to wrap my head around exactly what you need.

    Typically speaking if content is hidden, even if it’s in a popular construct like an accordion or carousel, people won’t explore it to view the content.

    But I’ve also built sites that use AJAX to show/hide content as if they were separate pages because someone wanted pages to fade from one to the other. That’s a horse of a different color I think, and as long as someone can manipulate the URI to get what they need and it preserves the history for back/next it’s fine.


    Thanks for responding.

    I guess what I’m looking for is some reference to back up the claim that people don’t explore hidden content.

    Intuitively I think it’s a bad idea to hide content. Especially if your reason for doing it is because you think there is too much on one page.

    <short rant>
    Apparently it is easier for the devs to cut and paste javascript that they don’t understand into a page to make it appear shorter than it is to ask the content provider to either tighten up their prose or break the content into more digestible chunks.
    </short rant>

    But before we go through the hassle of trying to forbid this fairly widespread practice, it would be nice to have something more concrete than just my opinion.


    This isn’t a problem with devs cutting and pasting in JS they don’t understand I don’t think. It’s the entire design process, which a developer is a key part of.

    There are probably books written on the subject, Google is your friend here.

    I know for the sites here at work (ASUS), our analytics, which I don’t have permission to share unfortunately, do show exactly what your intuition says: people rarely interact with hidden content. So much so that I’ve been able to prove this to the powers that be and now that everyone is educated on this we get better designs out in the wild.

    Everyone knows its true that people will rarely click to expand content or click on the 2nd or later slide in a carousel… but when design isn’t respected in an organization or from a client, things like this happen all the time. Add up a few thousand bad decisions over the course of a project and you get all the compromises you’re talking about.


    One more thing to add is that if something is hidden by default, not all screen readers will be able to pick up on it.


    No devs cutting and pasting js they don’t understand isn’t the main problem – just a major annoyance since they don’t seem to be able to do the most basic debugging if something goes wrong. (What do you mean I have two different versions of jQuery included? Is that a bad thing? I didn’t realize it was in the footer too.)

    I agree, it’s more of a culture problem. Most of the updates are text updates. When the incremental updates make the pages too squirrelly, the content providers take matters into their own hands and start telling the devs how to “fix the layout”. Most of the devs have spent years cutting and pasting text and it doesn’t even occur to them to question it. And it doesn’t occur to the content providers that someone else could do a better job of laying out their pages.

    But we are starting a badly needed reorganization of the site and an actual deployment process that doesn’t involve devs using FTP to put things in production.

    I’m hoping to set up some standards and best practices that will let us say, “No, you can’t do that. Refer to…” as opposed to “Everyone knows its true that…”

    And although accessibility issues have been a convenient catalyst to enforce change, the jury is out on whether or not screen readers will access the hidden content. My experience is that screen reader users update their software pretty religiously and it’s a common enough construct that the readers pretty much have to handle it.

    (Unless of course the JS is a 10-year old script that someone downloaded from who-knows-where. :^P)

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