The Design of Everyday Onboarding

I run a mobile onboarding company, so you can say I’m more obsessed than most about mobile UX. I love talking to developers and designers and find we all have a very unique “take” on what inspires us from other apps.

From my backend engineering background and founding several companies, I was never too enamored (err…“jonesed”) with fonts or color combinations. Luckily my partner’s own obsessions solves that deficiency!

But I do love the intersect of usability and design: many years ago my favourite book was “The Design of Everyday Things” the cover page exemplifies the essence of the book.

For geeks this is great primer to framing functionality in terms of the user’s needs. Here’s on example from the book:

One type of popular small airplane has identical-looking switches
for flaps and landing gear right next to one another.

Geeks like me would have made that design decision out of expediency rather than modelling the pilot’s needs, cognitive distractions and safety risks.

So now we have software in everyone’s hands that is infinitely more complex than a teapot and 100x more complex than an airplane dash.

The first generation of Apps could afford to have constrained (limited) use-cases (Photo sharing, social, games). But consumers (and enterprise employees) continue to demand “desktop-like” capability and utility in their pockets. So this second generation are increasingly complex applications. I’ve covered this a lot on Pointzi’s “Progressive Onboarding Blog” with several examples and teardowns.

Pervasive Progressive Onboarding from LinkedIn and Google

In that blog, I’d covered both Google and LinkedIn Apps. These massive corporations are huge users of contextual tips and its obvious:

  • Product Manager and Product Designers can experiment easily
  • They’ve figured out via uplift focussed analytics to know what that contextual tips are getting results
  • They’ve fostered an experiment-driven process to deepen customer stickiness/retention and are committing resources to this.

So back to my “obsession”, whenever I see App screens with interesting “Progressive Onboarding” I try to screenshot it, this morning I got the following tip in the LinkedIn Android App.

In this example LinkedIn know that I’ve not check post performance on my App.

Even though its a simple feature with an obvious button with decent screen real-estate, LinkedIn learned that users arn’t discovering or using this feature.

So thats cool, I’ve discovered this feature and will use it again.

So, I screenshotted it.

Now comes the amusing part — at least to me! (I’m easily amused).

I went to Google Photos on my phone to view the screenshot.

Sure enough Google presents me with tip about a “New!” feature in the Google Photo’s App.

So within a few minutes, I experienced two contextual tips from companies that I’ve discussed before. It was a slightly hallucinogenic experience :)

Its clear their investment in this “Progressive Onboarding” is working for both companies.

Usability, Complexity and Onboarding

Heres a startup lesson that I learned and deeply value….

In 2008, my previous startup (ThreatMetrix) was still trying to figure out product-market fit. I sat in a meeting with eBay trying to sell them our awesome fraud solution. They were combatting fraudsters and protecting users — the questions they asked questions basically told me the future of fraud and what all eCommerce and Bank will suffer in the future — ThreatMetrix adapted and is a very successful company today. The lesson is always pay attention to these monster companies because they show you the future.

Big companies like Google and LinkedIn are bell-weathers, they are in the vanguard of (second generation) Apps that are continually improving and growing in embedded complexity. Other apps will behave this way in the future.

Google and LinkedIn’s users:

  • demand greater power BUT
  • don’t want cognitive overload (the LinkedIn web app is abominably complex and cluttered).
  • when you put an App onto a phone, its good rule of thumb that the user’s IQ drops by 50%. The user is just too distracted by walking around, not getting run over, ordering sandwiches.

This is why Pointzi knows that “Progressive Onboarding” must be segmented/targeted, opportunistic, “gets out of the way”, data-driven and a tool in the hands of the Product Manager.

All Apps that have more than 1 use-case will work this way in the future.


I got sent the screenshot below, clearly LinkedIn still need to improve the formatting of their modal popups ;)