4 key tips to creating a better onboarding flow.

I uncovered a lot of information during the research phase of my onboarding flow. I took the information I found and boiled it down to 4 key points that all flows need to be successful.


It doesn’t break the flow. Breaking the flow is a party foul. When you take a user through an onboarding process, you want it to go as smoothly as possible. Having anything that keeps the user from enjoying your app, like registration, paywalls, and modals to name a few, will break your flow.

Out of these, modals are particularly interesting because their sole purpose is to interrupt flows. However, the interruption is usually necessary. Here are a few approaches I have seen with modals:

  1. While you’re using the app, it suddenly springs up (like modals usually do). I’m not going to add any references here, because your typical flow will do this.
  2. Your flow finishes, then it pops up before you can use the service. Check out SmartNews and Google Maps.
  3. During the flow (or after), it gives you a heads up and then pops up. Check out Skype Qik and Facebook Groups.

The 3rd option is your least path of resistance because it integrates the modals into the flow, or at least warns you it’s coming so the user feels prepared.

Highlight features, and don’t include a tutorial. Many designers assume that users want a full rundown of what the app is and how to use it when they first open it up. However, this will leave a terrible first impression and will simply bore them. Make a good first impression and ‘wow’ them by highlighting key features. Take a look at this onboarding flow:

A portion of the Stitcher onboarding flow

They could have given you a step-by-step on how to use their app, but instead they highlighted 3 key features that’re catered to the user.

Give the user a fluid experience. So, this point takes a bit from the thing about the modals. Not having interrupting modals is a part of giving the user a fluid experience. Again, no paywalls and no forced registrations. You want the user to start the flow curious and end it wanting to use the app.

Illustrations and images are amazing tools that can be used to create fluid experiences. However, when done wrong, it will disrupt your flow. You want something that will compliment the features you are showing off. There’s a saying in photography: “Anything that doesn’t help your photo, is hurting it”, and the same thing applies to your design.

Make a good first impression. This is the first time the user will be interacting with your app, meaning that this is when they will be making their first impression. It doesn’t matter if your app is amazing if you scare people away with your onboarding flow.