A lot has been written about the subject of choice and cognitive overload. You may even be familiar with the concept of the paradox of choice. We think that offering customers more choice, more information, is useful, but it may not be as simple as that. Information can be overwhelming in one context, and helpful in another. There is a balance to be found between too much and too little. The problem of choice is not necessarily in number as it is in the manner and form in which the information is presented.
Information proves useful when it is contextual, relevant, and immediate. If we were traveling together to a foreign country and I dumped on you a suitcase full of maps, brochures, and information about all of the possible things we could do together, and asked you to make a decision, I would be a terrible travel companion. I would also be smothering you in information. You might as well stick your hand in the suitcase and blindly pull out the first thing you grab. Or you might download a travel app from the hotel’s free WiFi that has curated suggestions. It’s your choice.
Much of the same can be said for user onboarding. There is no value in condensing all of the information a user needs to know to interact with a product in one overlay screen, or a setup wizard that (let’s face it) everyone will ignore.
The marketplace is crowded. The biggest hurdle businesses face is the path customers take from user activation to retention. In the customer life cycle, the drop-off numbers between activation and retention are typically high. It is between these two steps that we have a chance to woo customers and show them the value of our products. This is where meaningful onboarding can make a difference.
1. Expose Complexity Over Time
One way of getting at what a thing is, is to clarify what it isn’t. Which of the following is a solid definition of good user onboarding?
a. An interface layered on top of another interface that is meant to describe what it is covering up.
b. A tip or screen that explains a feature by interrupting a customer’s experience on a website or app and forces the user to interact with it.
c. A thoughtful approach to guiding customers through an experience by providing an intuitive interface that encourages interaction and provides information as the user needs it.
If you chose option A or B, as the grail knight says, you chose poorly.
Teams can spend a lot of time creating the best possible product, and in the process spend little time on how to introduce customers to the experience of using that product.
By critiquing the errors that others have made, and testing the products that we make, we can learn invaluable lessons on how to successfully onboard new and returning customers.
UX Designer Samuel Hulick shares a list of onboarding red flags that he’s identified, including overwhelming users with too much information.
Other hallmarks of bad onboarding include:
- Products that approach onboarding as a separate element from the “core use” of the product
- Onboarding that behaves as a kind of feature of the product
- An interface that interrupts rather than guides the user in an intuitive way
- Being overly rote with instructions in the onboarding, rather than allowing people to take actions that are meaningful to them
As Samuel explains, successful onboarding meets the user where they are in an experience. It doesn’t overwhelm them with information. Smart onboarding takes advantage of empty states by infusing them with a voice and tone that reflects the brand and is welcoming to the user. When the onboarding is done well, you barely notice it’s there.
WATCH: “Onboarding for Behavior Change,” a UIE virtual seminar with Samuel Hulick.
2. Know Thy User
Most of us spend a fair amount of time getting to know our audience: their goals, top tasks, habits, and interests. We create personas and user journeys. We test our prototypes and products with customers to gain an understanding of how they will use and respond to the work we’ve done. It’s a key piece to what we do: understanding our customers.
It’s interesting, then, to consider how we have all of this juicy customer information at our fingertips and yet many products lack engaging and thoughtful onboarding. How and when teams integrate onboarding into their process is an indicator of how successful their approach will be. Since onboarding is critical to the adoption of our products, it’s wise to spend time baking it into the design process from the start, testing, and using all that we know about our audience, to make it work.
Designer Grzegorz Oksiuta outlines ten steps to creating a better user onboarding experience in his blog post. Chief among Grzegorz’s steps is an understanding of the user’s goals and how and where onboarding greets them throughout the customer journey.
Other tips from Grzegorz include:
- Cut out useless stuff/distractions and focus the user’s attention
- Don’t make the user create an account for a blank state
- Introduce features one at a time
- Don’t force users to do anything
- Tailor onboarding to different user goals (some features are for advanced users and should be tailored to them)
- Make use of your blank states
- Talk to your users one on one
READ: “10 Steps for Better Onboarding Experience” a blog post by Grzegorz Oksiuta.
3. Reduce The Cognitive Load
The balance between introducing core concepts to users during onboarding and not overwhelming them with too much information can be tricky, and no one knows this better than product designers and developers.
Products, particularly ones that target behavior change, must weigh the user goals, product goals, and the intuitiveness of the interface to pinpoint where and how to convey meaning, introduce choice, encourage action, and build habit.
@Puppybits breaks down how his team addressed this balancing act in a budgeting app they developed. The team listed and prioritized goals they wanted people to experience, and considered how to introduce concepts over time to build an understanding of the application and reward users for saving money.
“As app designers and developers, we need to expose core concepts and build upon those over time when the user is ready. “Explaining” too many concepts, too quickly creates cognitive overload for users.”
READ: “Onboarding is half-baked. How to reduce the cognitive load” a blog post by @puppybits.
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