How to excel at designing a great user onboarding experience

As a child who grew up in Delhi, I was always fascinated by the rich heritage that Delhi offers to its residents. The Mughal monuments, their grandeur past, the spectacular architecture- everything about them was just so enticing.

Except for one thing.

I was unaware of how to experience these monuments, the right way. I wanted to delve into the rich history of these monuments but I always found myself unhinged to my country’s magnificent past. At first, I blamed myself for not paying enough attention in my history classes. But then, as I talked to other people, they tagged along in my plight.

Here’s what I felt when I visited these monuments- I didn’t feel any connection while walking down the historical alleys of the fort. Even when I hired a travel guide, they just incessantly talked about irrelevant information, often swaying from one thing to another. The touts only cared about their money and had no interesting facts to share. Call it lack of knowledge or lack of empathy for visitors who came to spend their entire day at the monument. All I really wanted to do was to bask in the glory of a marvelous past. Alas! No one really cared what I wanted!

This was my experience until a few years back. However, it changed recently on my tour of a very famous Delhi monument. I opted for an audio guide this time and by the end of my tour, I was in awe of the whole experience. It was, as if, every nook and corner of the monument spoke to me, told me stories about the forlorn past. I was intrigued and, at the same time, happy.

Happy, because this was the first time someone uncovered the layers of my questions and valued my time.

User onboarding is quite similar to that.

If you look at the analogy, just like people who visit monuments, users come to visit your website/application for a purpose. They use the product as a medium to accomplish something in their lives — it could be sending bulk emails to their subscribers or booking tickets for their vacation.

So, the onboarding process should help your users understand how they can do so quickly without feeling too overwhelmed or helpless. The onboarding experience should be such that it delights them and makes them loyal users of your platform.

Therefore it’s important to identify-

  1. The steps that you want the users to take, and
  2. How can you guide them at each step and help them perform the right actions?

great user onboarding experience

Now, let’s dive straight into how you can design a better onboarding experience for your users.

The experience should help users feel connected

The ‘real’ purpose that people use an application is because they want a solution to their ‘problems’. For example- they are on social media to make new friends, connect with old ones, share their thoughts and be virtually present for all those guilty pleasures. Therefore, for any kind of platform, figuring out what ticks with users should be the first step while designing the onboarding experience.

For example-

  1. How can you give flexibility to users when they want to sign up? Can they use their existing social credentials to access the web/mobile app?
  2. Do you really need all their personal details like date of birth, age, maiden name or alternate email address?
  3. Is it absolutely necessary to gather a user’s account/credit card information?

Let’s look at Twitter as an example.

When you are new to a platform, the first thing that piques your interest is- how does it work? What is it about? Twitter has answered this question on their landing page-Sign up of Twitter

And the best part? Once you are successfully signed up after verifying your email address, it doesn’t force you into any compulsory actions. Every screen has a ‘skip’ stage and you can get back to any step later.

Twitter's onboarding screens

In the example below, Twitter tells you why you must follow some people. It’s because only when you follow someone, their tweets will appear on your timeline. They also ask for your interests (with a valid reason) so that they can personalize your experience.

How twitter onboards its new users

Onboarding experiences are like the first impression. They’ll fail if you are putting up your user for a wild goose chase without informing them why they ought to chase it.

So the important thing to keep in mind is that a successful sign up doesn’t count as a conversion. Your application is a success when your users understand the app and come back again and again to use it.

The experience should win users’ trust

According to a survey, 77% of users drop an app within 3 days after they download it. Of course, it’s not just the onboarding experience which is to blame. But it’s true that a good onboarding experience can help improve customer conversion and retention.

And for a good onboarding experience, you have to win over people’s trust. When users feel safe sharing their information, they are more likely to use the application again and again.

For instance, consider FinTech apps which can’t function properly without the friction of asking for confidential financial information. This friction point is inevitable to ensure smooth functioning of the application. However, it can be made more bearable for users by designing a comforting onboarding experience with detailed explanations on the safety features that you’ve included. It’s important to make users feel confident about using the app by entrusting that their money or personal info is safe with you. So, always ensure that both safety and simplicity are ticked off in your onboarding designs.

A good example is of Robinhood which is a very popular trading app. It gives detailed information on why it’s asking for particular information.

Robinhood app onboarding
Source- https://taplytics.com/blog/how-fintech-apps-use-ux-to-build-trust/

For example- when you are prompted to enter your country, it tells you that you need to fill this because federal laws demand it. Similarly, it communicates proactively why the app needs to have your SSN before you proceed with any further steps.

The experience should meet users’ expectations

Every user downloads an app or starts using a service for a reason. They have either heard rave reviews about the product from their friends or your marketing team has done an excellent job at grabbing those eyeballs. Therefore, when someone downloads the app, you have just one chance to grab that user through your excellent onboarding process. It’s your only shot to show that you’ll meet (or, even surpass) their expectations.

And to meet their expectations, you first need to understand your users and their mental models. Why are they here? What do they want to accomplish? Have they previously used a similar application?

This is important to consider because when the user is new to the platform, there is a possibility that (s)he has zero vocabularies/expertise in the area.

For example- when users sign up on Duolingo, they want to learn a new language. The good thing about their onboarding experience is that they give an option of taking a placement test before starting any lessons. This way they put the users at ease and if they have a prior experience they can revisit their fluency in the language.

Also, they do not prompt you to unnecessarily sign up on their platform. And when they do, they give a valid reason for it- they need the information to save your progress.

Sign up option is not forced on users

The final word

Considering that there are countless apps these days, it would be difficult to drill down on a fixed checklist which can help create an excellent onboarding.

Just as there isn’t just one approach to solve problems, there also isn’t any one silver bullet to nail user onboarding. Onboarding is something which will always be very product and geography specific. People from various backgrounds, with different mental models, are going to use the application.

The choice is with us- we can either let them wander about and swim in the uncertainty or we can welcome them with a flexible and resilient experience that serves them well.

One way to excel at it is to involve real users. You can prototype your user onboarding experience and get feedback from real users. And once it’s live, use the power of data to analyze if any further improvements can be made to it.

We hope this helps you look at user onboarding from a different perspective and make it count as a crucial part in the application’s success.

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