It’s all about user intent

Over the last few years, much has been said about how video games have killer user onboarding.

And it’s true. In the early days of video games, designers faced a formidable challenge. They had to explain gaming mechanics to a generation that never played.

Unlike today, most of the players were new to the very concept of video gaming. There was no ‘muscle memory’ or body of knowledge when it came to games on the screen.

Game designers had to invent clever ways to show players the ropes while keeping them engaged.

Fun fact: Microsoft built now-iconic Windows games, Solitaire…

Product tours are winning

The industry is maturing and some preliminary results are in. Back in 2013–2014 the topic of user onboarding was not well covered. SaaS market wasn’t as big as it is today. These were the days before Samuel Hulick’s teardowns, before Intercom.

What happened

As voices began to emerge, every marketer and startup founder picked up the topic in an effort to score some content marketing points. The way these things usually go, one would take someone else’s work and rewrite it a to produce an “original” piece. …

This is an added benefit we often overlook. By design, a good user onboarding experience will nudge newcomers to functionality that is core to the your product’s value.

Great products stand out by being best in solving specific problems for one or few specific customer types. This commitment creates value that cannot be offered by general, all purpose products.

The problem is that you will still likely get quite a few users that are looking for something else. Most likely these are the users you never wanted in the first place. They will ask for features you don’t need to…


Let’s look at a typical user journey. It all begins with a promise. A promise of value your product will deliver to your user. This usually comes in the form of an ad, search engine query or a content piece. This may be the first touchpoint, but its not the last.

As a prospecting user learns more about your product, this promise of value is reinforced. In turn this drives the user to sign up for a trial.

Once a new user crosses into the product, they expect to see your product deliver that promised value. This is the…

Each user's path to your product is unique. It may take multiple touchpoints to convince them to try your product. But when it comes to user onboarding, we're looking at a fairly linear process.

User onboarding: a succession of micro conversions

Let's compare the process to that of a video game. Your product makes promises of value it will deliver to your user. Your user starts out with a limited amount of coins or skills.

If they're able to complete the first challenge with reasonable degree of success… And within reasonable amount of time… And with reasonable amount of effort… It creates sense of accomplishment and motivates…

Samuel Hulick recently wrote an excellent post Product People, Mind the Gap! where he recalls an elementary school teacher once giving him an assignment that seemed simple on the surface, but turned out to be surprisingly complex:

The assignment’s simple-seeming description was this: “Write out each of the steps involved in making a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.”

However, its hidden complexity was hinted at with the following warning: “And make sure you write down every… single… step.”

This is an incredibly insightful exercise for anyone building product experiences. In fact, this is something I do quite a bit at Onboarding.Pro

To make the whole process more visual, I've put together a map template to organize findings and simplify analysis. It's proven pretty useful, so I wanted to share it with you.

Click image to download User Journey Map template

I know, I know… This sounds like a clickbait title, but hear me out.

Let me lay it on you: Setup wizards! Yes, they work! Remember how installing a Windows app looked like (still does)? These installation wizards are not sexy (anymore), but there's a lot we can learn from them.

Windows installation wizard

Why setup wizards work?

There are three qualities that make setup wizards effective:

Linear path As users of software we're usually in a rush to get the thing working, and as humans we naturally respond well to linear progress. Set up wizards clearly chart the path, so you can move forward (or backward…

They’re a features page

If you go on Dribbble right now and enter user onboarding in the search field this is what you’ll get… These were literally top three results on the page, all with user onboarding in the name.

Visualizing the user onboarding process

User onboarding is a type of a managed learning experience. Like all learning the onboarding process typically follows the same universal 2-stage pattern in a continuous looping cycle.

The 2-Stage User Onboarding Diagram

During the first stage, as you first introduce the product to your new users, the focus is on helping them achieve the core value that the product delivers. For every product there is typically one key feature that sums up its (initial) value to users. …

Tooltips get a bad rap these days, mostly due to misuse (see Why tutorials don’t work for user onboarding), but they are a great tool for customer success (if used right).

There are two types of tooltips — tooltips and hotspots (question marks). Essentially they’re the same, with only a slight difference in appearance.

A hotspot can be placed on the screen and serve to call out a tooltip. These two are pretty common on the web, and for a good reason. Four good reasons, actually.

Inline placement

Tooltips display right on the page. This is important, because you can…

Roman from Onboarding.Pro

Scribbles on user onboarding

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