Context. Scientific exploitation of the ever increasing volumes of astronomical data requires efficient and practical methods for data access, visualisation, and analysis. Hierarchical sky tessellation techniques enable a multi-resolution approach to organising data on angular scales from the full sky down to the individual image pixels. Aims. We aim to show that the hierarchical progressive survey (HiPS) scheme for describing astronomical images, source catalogues, and three-dimensional data cubes is a practical solution to managing large volumes of heterogeneous data and that it enables a new level of scientific interoperability across large collections of data of these different data types. Methods. HiPS uses the HEALPix tessellation of the sphere to define a hierarchical tile and pixel structure to describe and organise astronomical data. HiPS is designed to conserve the scientific properties of the data alongside both visualisation considerations and emphasis on the ease of implementation. We describe the development of HiPS to manage a large number of diverse image surveys, as well as the extension of hierarchical image systems to cube and catalogue data. We demonstrate the interoperability of HiPS and multi-order coverage (MOC) maps and highlight the HiPS mechanism to provide links to the original data. Results. Hierarchical progressive surveys have been generated by various data centres and groups for ∼200 data collections including many wide area sky surveys, and archives of pointed observations. These can be accessed and visualised in Aladin, Aladin Lite, and other applications. HiPS provides a basis for further innovations in the use of hierarchical data structures to facilitate the description and statistical analysis of large astronomical data sets.