Back in 1995 Jakob Nielsen formulated his 10 Heuristics for User Interface Design. These are general rules of thumb for designing a software interface. Evaluating your design against these rules will help you avoid many common usability mistakes.

In this post I’m sharing 5 heuristics of user onboarding we developed at Onboarding Pro. They help us design first time experiences for online software products.

1. Value Match
We hire products to do jobs for us. The fundamental value of a car is its ability to get you around faster and safer than walking. In the same way your software performs a job for your users. As your users sign up for your product, they do so with expectation of value it delivers. Your user onboarding experience needs to match their expectation of value. The goal of onboarding is to show that your product delivers (or exceeds) these expectations. Its function is to help your users achieve this value.

2. Direction 
The most common behavior for first time users is poking around. This rarely results in reaching success with the product. Design your onboarding experience to provide direction for new users. Lead them from sign up to success in a linear fashion. Foster progress that brings them closer to goal.

3. No Distractions
Once you have your user on the path to success, make sure they don’t stray from it. Remove distractions that may cause friction or disconnect. Do you really need to ask them to sign up for your newsletter when they just entered the product? Is it absolutely necessary to make them leave the app to confirm their email address? Less distractions means faster progress.

4. Learning through Use 
No one really likes learning in of itself. Most people love cruising down the coast highway, not changing gears. Encourage learning through use. Help your users achieve their goal while learning the motions of your product. It shouldn’t be the other way around. If you did it right the user will have achieved a unit of value when they’re done. This could be a created project, finished article or a short video in the case of Vine below.

User Onboarding at Vine

5. Pertinent Assistance 
Vine’s onboarding above would not make much sense without the little instructional tooltips on the screen. In many ways this can make or break your user onboarding experience. At no point should the user wonder what to do next. Prevent confusion. Provide relevant, timely help to answer frequent questions about your product’s functions. Explain terms and abbreviations. Show examples.