Building a Magic On-Boarding

We’ve all been there. You download an app, launch it, and it asks for half a dozen permissions before you even get the chance to create an account. Or perhaps they throw you into an empty-state without explaining how to use the product? These first-impression fumbles are the elements of a blundered on-boarding process. This is what we’re going to avoid. We can do better.

The following assumes the product in question is functioning, is usable, and is reliable. Without a foundation composed of those three elements, the experience will ultimately crumble.

The First Impression

Delighting your users doesn’t just happen, and it’s so much more than a buzzword. As a goal, users should be delighted the moment they open an application. This doesn’t mean the interface should be Disney on Ice, with every element dancing around; but it should exceed their expectations and offer them a warm welcome to the product.

Instagram is all about photos, so their first impression had better be about photos. Even the buttons take a step back with their alpha channel and let the photo shine (pun intended).

A great first impression as a core product element is to remove all unnecessary friction that stands between a new user signing up and their first “WOW!” moment, and having an elegant in the path getting there.


Adding a progress bar can increase conversions up to 40%.

Award early wins

There’s a variety of studies that suggest the same thing: progress towards a goal increases likelihood and speed of engagement towards completing the goal. By giving users early victories — a perceived “huge” reward for minimal input effort — they’re more likely to stick through harder on-boarding steps.

Let’s take, for example, the basics of creating a new account with a service: setting a username and password.

By giving an arbitrary “33% completion” for adding these two easy, mandatory items, we can imply the user is already a third of the way there. Having a progress bar gives the user context as to where they are in the new account process, and makes it more likely they’ll complete the remaining steps in the setup. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that adding a progress bar can increase conversions up to 40%.

LinkedIn’s “profile completeness” meter shows various titles instead of a percentage. Why settle for “Average” when importing your email contacts list would make you an “Expert”?

Without a progress bar, users would have no end goal to focus their effort towards. LinkedIn and Twitter are excellent examples of products that use progress bars as a persuasive utility for users during the setup process. Delighting users with visually satisfying progress can make each step of the process feel that much more worthwhile.


In a nutshell, putting resources into something makes you more likely to see that “something” through to the end.

Play to the sunk-cost fallacy

The basic idea of a sunk-cost is that investments (time, effort, etc) can not be recovered once incurred. If you‘ve ever eaten food just so you didn’t “throw away that money” despite being full, then you’ve experienced the sunk-cost fallacy in action. In a nutshell, putting resources into something makes you more likely to see that “something” through to the end.

Duolingo prompting a new user to create an account (“profile”) after compleing a first quick lesson.

Duolingo does this beautifully. Their on-boarding process (documented by Samuel Hulick here) places account creation at the end of a fun tour that feels like a lesson in a language of your choosing. Of course you’re going to create an account — you don’t want that first language lesson to go to waste!


Prime your requests

No one likes strangers showing up, unannounced, asking for sensitive information — so why do apps think it’s alright to greet potential new users with a boatload of permissions requests before offering an introduction?

By priming users for a permission request (to send push notifications, or to access to a camera, for example), you can drastically increase the likelihood of getting that ever valuable permission token, and you can enhance user experience all at the same time.

On an experiential level, “priming” means to explain that a permission request is needed. The app has a user trigger the system-level permission modal by pressing a button themselves, so there’s no surprise in the request — after all, they asked for it. In the example below, a user presses “Notify Me” to trigger a system-level request for permission to send push notifications.

Cluster.co asking users for Push Notification permissions

In redesigning their on-boarding flows, Cluster saw a 100% completion rate by having a user bring up the notifications prompt by using a “Notify me” button. There’s only one chance to ask for each of these permission tokens; if a user declines, there’s a chance they’ll need to muck about in their system settings for your product to work properly.


Educate, don’t abandon

An on-boarding process doesn’t end once they’ve created and account and given you all the permissions you need. Users need to be educated to all the gestures, menus, and essential functions of your product — it’s unlikely they’ll seek this information out on their own.

Google Earth educating a new user on the essential gestures for using the product — with a button to allow existing users to skip the tutorial session.

New users are just that — they’re new. They don’t necessarily know how to do anything with your product, so teaching them new features with a guiding hand is essential. Giving existing users a way to skip the tutorial is also an easy win which will scale as product adoption grows.


In Conclusion

Treat users like you’d treat a friend. Guide them through new experiences, make them feel empowered, and make their time and effort invested feel worth the while.

www.armannobari.com