As I wrap up my final round of user testing, I’ve been considering the best way to onboard users to Leder, the mobile journalism app that I’m designing and developing.
Onboarding is the process of introducing new users to a product. At its most basic level, onboarding should explain how your product works. But truly effective onboarding sends an even deeper message. It should let users know how your product will enhance their lives. Most users call it quits after only a few times trying a problematic app—onboarding may be your only chance to convince users that your product is worth their time and energy.
With stakes that high, I devoted substantial time to crafting and iterating Leder’s onboarding experience. Here are five questions I considered:
First, is onboarding even necessary?
Onboarding puts another step between the user and your product. As the designer, you have to decide whether this delay is worthwhile. Apple recommends improving the design of an app first before turning to onboarding solutions. Designers should focus on ensuring all features and tasks are intuitive and easily discoverable, using onboarding only as a last resort.
Last year, I worked on a team to develop a mobile side-scrolling game called Hootie Puff. In lieu of a tutorial, we designed a seven-second animated sequence on the landing page that illustrates the main mechanics of the game—the main character avoiding adversaries, collecting points, and leveling up. Users could get a general feel for Hootie Puff without halting their gameplay.
What is the best approach?
Let’s say you decide that you do need an onboarding experience. What should it be? You could create a slideshow or video, tooltips, popups, or overlays. You could onboard users in one go or in intermittent steps, as soon as your app launches or once the user reaches a certain stage, in a passive way or an active way.
While testing my journalism app, I devoted an entire website page to onboarding beta users. The page served my purpose—all I needed to do was help my already committed users figure out how to install, setup, and use Leder. The app that I will release on the Apple Store in December, however, requires a quicker, more persuasive, thoughtful experience.
Who are the users?
Whatever process you design should serve your users. Consider what motivates people to use your app and what they are trying to achieve. What do they need to know to be effective? Conversely, which details are superfluous? Is it okay for them to make mistakes? What information will make them feel comfortable, excited, and empowered?
Am I demonstrating value?
I hate downloading an app only to find out that I can’t use it until I log in. Before asking anything of the user, you need to demonstrate why your app is valuable and worth the effort.
If your app does require something from the user in order to work, make sure you do two things. First, explain why you need personal information and how it will be used. Second, delay this step until absolutely necessary so the user can test drive your app first. For example, the travel app Hopper provides two chances for the user to agree to push notifications, immediately following the onboarding process as well as after they had gotten a feel for the app.
If your app does require something from the user in order to work, make sure you do two things. First, explain why you need personal information and how it will be used. Second, delay this step until absolutely necessary so the user can test drive your app first.
For example, the travel app Hopper provides two chances for the user to agree to push notifications, immediately following the onboarding process as well as after they've tried the app for awhile.
Finally, can users get in and out easily?
Users should never feel stuck in your app. Give users the option to skip or dismiss the onboarding process altogether.
So, what did I do for Leder?
I designed six swipeable animated sequences that provide a high-level overview of how Leder works. The final sequence explains why Leder needs access to Evernote, and I give users the option of connecting immediately or later. Users will also be able to skip and replay the sequence.
Second, I created a sample project that users can work through if they want. I like the sample project for a few reasons—it’s active, helping the user better remember the app mechanics; it takes place in the actual interface instead of mockups, allowing the user to truly interact; it’s optional, and can be bypassed or deleted; and it’s persistent, so the user can reference it later.