Bookending with good beginnings & ends

This piece was written together with Joe Macleod and also published as part of UXLX 2020.

When we design products and services, we focus a lot on the core user experience, or what we envision seasoned users to be doing day to day. But a good product or service will be bookended by a strong beginning, and a strong end.

So, what makes a good beginning and end, and how should we be thinking about the design of them? Krystal Higgins, interaction designer for user onboarding, and Joe Macleod, the founder of the world’s first customer ends-focused business, have been thinking about these two sides of the customer journey for a while. When they realized that they were both giving workshops at the same conference, they decided to write a joint primer on the basics of good product beginnings and ends.

Making good beginnings with user onboarding

– Krystal Higgins

User onboarding is the experience that kicks off a person’s journey in a new product or service. A good user onboarding design will do several jobs to support both the user and the business during those journeys. These jobs include: familiarizing people with a product or service; encouraging them to make a commitment; tailoring an experience to their goals; building a foundation of trust; and giving people a reason to return. A good onboarding experience can help us retain the users we’ve worked hard to acquire.

Unfortunately, we tend to hold a very narrow definition of user onboarding that prevents us from designing something that completes those jobs. If I were to ask your team to define onboarding, they might describe “the setup flow,” “the signup flow,” “the first run experience,” or even a specific implementation like “the tooltip tour” or “the slideshow.” But limiting onboarding’s scope results in beginnings that are overloaded with unnecessary information or tasks. You have probably suffered through at least one overbearing introductory experience that tried to describe a whole product at once, or get you to make many decisions or commitments at the start. And you likely found little guidance to support you later on, when you actually needed it while in the thick of things in the product.

Onboarding isn’t a single feature, or a single flow. Onboarding is a process that acclimates a person to a new product or service by linking together multiple activities over time. Building an onboarding experience of this nature means building interactive guidance into the product itself. This involves identifying and prioritizing key onboarding actions based on the different situations of your new users; breaking down each of those actions to apply guidance to them; and linking those actions together in a flexible way so that the end of one action hints at the beginning of another. Distributing onboarding activities over time allows you to focus the new user’s first run experience on the most impactful, meaningful actions and information that give them a reason to move forward. A more integrated, contextual approach to user onboarding ultimately leads to better beginnings.

One thing that really helps onboarding shine is a thoughtful approach to the offboarding, or ending, experience. This is very important when considering an onboarding experience meant to encourage new users to sign up for, subscribe to, or buy something. It requires trust. Trust can be built by removing the risk of someone making the choice to commit. This can be partly achieved by offering new users an ability to try out core parts of your product before they make a commitment, but also by illustrating how they can reverse their decision later by reassuring them that it will be easy to delete an account, cancel a subscription, or return something they bought. Having a solid offboarding strategy — as Joe will talk about — can help onboarding make a more compelling case.

Making good Endings with user Off-boarding

– Joe Macleod

User Off-boarding is the exercise of designing specific elements at the end of the consumer lifecycle to guide, delight and mitigate problems with consumerism. It considers all sectors of consumerism, from physical products, services to purely digital experiences. It re-adapts tools that designers commonly use in other aspects of product development and has introduced new models, techniques and tools for specific new challenges with designing ends.

Historically off-boarding gets overlooked. Product development time is focused on other areas of the engagement. Budget, resources and interest leave the end till it’s too late. It gets left to support staff, society and the environment to take the hit of overlooked consumer endings. In this absence consumers are left un-instructed, and un-supported at the end.

Will business gain from a good ending? Certainly! Improving the design of endings promises enormous opportunities. Through collaborative off-boarding businesses gain richer communication with their customers. Endings improve the accuracy of deleting, reclaiming or removing materials. It raises brand perception through loyalty and increases re-engagement. Businesses with better endings surprisingly have higher consumer satisfaction. With the world in need of responsible consumer experiences, endings will be a competitive differentiator.

However, it is clear that designing just the ending is not sufficient. All aspects of the consumer experience ultimately characterize the end. The type of transaction model you choose for your business, the tone of voice business uses, the measuring tools you use in product development, all have some influence on the end of the consumer lifecycle. How you onboard will impact how you off-board. Being well versed in both approaches will benefit all your product development and the people in those teams.

Joe Macleod is founder of the world’s first customer ending business. A veteran of product development industry with decades of experience across service, digital and product sectors. Author of Ends. Head of Engineering at AndEndTEDx Speaker. Wired says “An energetic Englishman, Macleod advises companies on how to game out their endgames.”