The do’s and don’ts for implementing a good onboarding experience

April 6, 2017 4:39 pm

The do’s and don’ts for implementing a good onboarding experience



Onboarding screens are designed to introduce users to how the application works and what main functions it has, to help them understand how to use it. As a user experience practitioner, I have experience testing onboarding screens with users and often get asked by clients what is the best way to implement a good onboarding experience to introduce users to an app. Onboarding can be a challenge to get right, especially when trying to meet both business requirements and user needs. The business wants to show users the key features and unique aspects of an app but often in user testing we observe users simply moving through onboarding screens without paying attention to them.

So what to do? In this article, I’ll share learning from our experience testing onboarding screens with a review of the different ways which apps implement onboarding to engage and educate users on their app.

So, let’s start with the don’ts

  • Don’t use too many words. We’ve seen in user testing that users find wordy onboarding screens unengaging and this often results in users not reading the information or forgetting this information when they arrive on to the app. Consider the amount of information you are presenting your users with and try not to overload them to avoid them looking for a way to exit or skip.
  • Don’t include too many screens… or too few! Think about the length of your onboarding process, too many screens result in users swiping through without paying any attention to the content. On the contrary, although users want a short, snappy, engaging welcome to an app they still need enough information to understand how to use the app and what the benefits of using it are.

Here’s an example of how Duolingo avoid the don’ts we have listed above. Duolingo gets the user to set a goal (how many minutes of practice per day) to get started on the app. This avoids a lengthy onboarding process whilst still providing an engaging experience for the user. It does this with the appropriate number of screens and provides enough information to introduce the user to the aims of the app.

Duolingo onboarding screens

On the other hand, here’s an example from Pinterest which although getting users started straight away by asking users to select 5 or more topics to follow, does not explain how to use Pinterest or what the key areas of the app are. Therefore, it doesn’t include enough information to fully introduce the user to the key functions and benefits of the app, leaving them unsure of what the next steps are.

Pinterest onboarding screens

And now for the do’s…

  • Do keep content clear and concise. Users don’t want to read huge chunks of onboarding instructions, and they won’t as we’ve seen in our user testing sessions. Give clear points which focus on the main features and benefits, with one benefit or instruction per slide.
  • Do ensure the onboarding is progressive and contextual. One way to ensure the experience is kept in context is to walk the user through the key features of the app on their first time opening the app. This will help the user to remember how to do it next time and avoid them swiping past some screens which tell them this key information. We’ve seen in user testing that users find this type of interactive process much more engaging and informative.

Here’s an example of how Snapchat keep their content brief whilst still providing a progressive and contextual experience for the user. Snapchat walks uses through the interface to guide the user through the steps for the first time, encouraging users to try out these interactions in the context of where they will use them in the future. For example, how to take a photo, followed by how to add a caption. This approach allows users to learn features much more effectively than a static screen with a bunch of instructions that users must memorize for later.

Snapchat onboarding screens

  • Do use familiar gestures or provide instructions on how to interact with the app. Apps use a range of familiar gestures to interact with them, including swiping, zooming and tapping. We see users trying a variety of these and sometimes it’s a bit like a guessing game for them. Introduce these gestures to your users, especially if your app uses uncommon gestures (like swiping left rather than right), make sure you include relevant instructions during your onboarding screens.

Here’s an example of how Trainerize provides users with interactive onscreen instructions which appear in context. For example, it informs users how to interact with the page and moves users on to the next step after they have performed the action onscreen. As well as providing an engaging onboarding experience, it will increase users understanding of how to interact with and use the app.

Trainerize onboarding screens

  • Do include a skip button. Sometimes no matter how engaging or interactive your onboarding screens are, users still want to skip them to get started and learn the app by playing. Including a skip button gives your users the freedom to do this and is important for users who may have already encountered the onboarding screens previously.

As well as presenting users with a progressive and contextual onboarding process by presenting the user with one feature at a time, the example from Waze below shows how it also allows users to skip the onboarding screens by clicking the cross.

Waze onboarding screens

  • Do research your user’s expectations. Remember to think about what kind of app you are presenting to users and ensure to meet their expectations of what they need to know or do when opening your app for the first time. For example, our experience testing fitness apps has discovered that users expect to input personal information so that the app can track their exercise levels and weight changes.

The example from Fitbit shows how it gets users started by asking users to input some personal information regarding their height, weight and age. This meets users’ expectations for a fitness app as they would expect to have to enter this key information for the app to track their exercise levels and weight loss. This form of onboarding can engage users with the app as they have inputted personal information, thus have a sense of commitment to the app.

Fitbit onboarding screens

The take away

Onboarding can be a challenge, especially when trying to meet the needs of both the business and the user. As we have seen in this article there are a few take away points to bare in mind when building a successful onboarding experience. Ensure your onboarding is progressive and contextual, use familiar gestures, get users engaged straight away by creating an interactive onboarding experience and consider adding a skip button for those users who just want to learn by playing! Whatever you decide, make sure you test your designs with your users before they go live!