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Step by step

With any online presentation, we have the option of a ‘multi-page’ approach. Instead of making information – or a process – look scary, by laying it all out in one piece, we can easily break it down into multiple steps.

The advantages of this are psychological as well as offering graphical clarity. For example, forms with a dozen or more fields in a single view have always been daunting, but are far more so on small mobile screens. Break them into individual questions, one per page, and you can make the user’s life a lot easier.

However, while it is usually a good thing to break things down, I don’t believe the same can be said for keeping the number of steps a secret. The problems caused by omitting this information can easily outweigh the advantages of a multi-step approach.

A page with one paragraph of text headed ‘introduction’, with a ‘next’ button, could be page 1 of 2 …or it could be the introduction to War and Peace. Who knows, unless we provide that information?

Confronted with a form that just has a field saying ‘enter your name’, and a ‘next’ button, readers may well fear that there are more steps to follow than there really are. And that may put them off unnecessarily.

Conversely, they might have arrived hoping for some detailed, in-depth research, and be worried that they were going to get something insubstantial. We don’t want that either.

The key then is to break things down, while ensuring the readers know how much there is in the presentation and where they are in the process. Keep an eye open to see how websites tackle this, and make a note of what works well for you.