The final season of the fantasy TV series Game of Thrones, which aired recently, was panned for its tonal shift from prior seasons. The audience blamed the show writers for pacing and action that seemed contrary to the character arcs developed in George RR Martin’s books. There were many arguments and discussions about what the true cause was, but one particular critique from a Twitter user caught my eye. The author describes how differences between “plotters” and “pantsers,” two writer archetypes, could have been at the heart of the issue. And I realized it reflects how differences in our approaches to designing user onboarding can affect the user experience.
With artificial intelligence and its many variants becoming core parts of our products, we need to think about how to onboard users to automated experiences. The principles that underpin good user onboarding for AI aren’t that different from the principles that underpin good user onboarding for anything else. But, because of the unpredictable nature of AI, we must embrace interactive, multi-part guidance more than ever before, instead of the information-heavy approaches that still dominate onboarding for traditional products today.
“New users aren’t discovering our features. Can we make them watch a video or do a tutorial before they get started?”
This is a question I’ve heard many variations of throughout my career. Chances are, if you work in product design, you’ve heard it too.
Onboarding won’t succeed if it’s a passive, standalone, rigid flow. It needs to be a well-integrated part of your core product experience. To achieve this, onboarding must focus on the key actions that lead users to long-term success, retention, and engagement. And, to accommodate users in different situations, it needs to be flexible enough to allow these key actions to appear in different orders.
In an earlier post, I covered how to identify key actions. In that same post, I also covered how to break key actions down into modules so they can be scaffolded with guidance. The 3 parts of a key action module are its trigger (the part that initiates action), its activity (the heart of the action), and its follow-up (the part that closes out the action and moves people on to next available key actions).
In an earlier post, I covered how onboarding is more than just a one-time event in a customer’s journey. In this post, I’ll be making the case for applying more than one onboarding method. Just as students will fail to learn if taught with a one-size-fits-all approach, trying to onboard every user in the same way is bound to fail.
In a previous post, we looked at multiple opportunities over time for user onboarding techniques to be useful in our products. If we design for those opportunities ad hoc, we risk unscalable designs and frustrating users with fragmented education. Instead, let’s see how to tackle onboarding design so that it fits into a long-term approach to guidance.
When designed as part of a long-term approach to guidance, the seam between everyday user education and onboarding can be invisible.
I often evangelize the importance of first time user experiences. After all, not all of the users acquired to a product will stick around, but they’ll all experience its first run design. To encourage return use, that first impression must be solid. But it’s also very common for designers to overemphasize the first run experience at the expense of long-term user support.
Attendees of my “New Users Matter, Too” talks have graciously brainstormed ideas for free samples
–experiences that allow new users to interact with a portion of a product’s value proposition before committing to an account. These methods can increase valuable signups and reduce the walls that prevent conversion. Use these ideas to kickstart your team’s exploration of a free sample that’s right for your product.
If you’re designing your product’s first onboarding flow or improving an existing one, you’ll need to evaluate its performance. A good assessment process helps you find opportunities for improvement and justifies the resources you need to make the new user’s experience awesome.
Often, teams measure onboarding myopically, like a feature in isolation. Apps measure clickthrough rate in an introductory slideshow. Sites measure how many people sign up. Devices measure how quickly someone gets through a setup wizard. These kinds of measurements are immediate, cheap, and easily automated. But, while they’re easy, they don’t show whether an onboarding design is contributing to or detracting from a new user’s overall success.
This is the last post in the 3-part “Engaging new users” series. Part 1 covered guided interaction, the practice of educating users in a realistic context, and how it is more compelling than slideshows, videos or static instruction. In part 2, we learned how to use free samples to demonstrate a product’s value proposition and build the trust needed to encourage sign-up.
And in today’s post, part 3, we’ll examine how giving new users a personal focus is the key to making these onboarding techniques stick.
In the first part of this series, I shared how guided interaction introduces users to the authentic context of your product with just the right amount of education to ensure they find success. Today, we investigate how the 2nd of the 3 pillars of better onboarding, the use of free samples, gets those new customers using your product in the first place.
There are 3 overarching best practices when it comes to engaging and educating new users:
- Guided interaction
- Free samples
- Personal focus
In the past I’ve covered patterns and anti-patterns for onboarding new users and principles for first time user experiences. In this post and the two that will follow, I’ll be digging into each of the 3 ways we can better engage new users:
- Guided interaction
- Free samples
- Personal focus
Today’s post is focused on guided interaction. So let’s jump into what it means, discover patterns for making guided interaction a reality and see a few examples.
If you’ve been following my first time UX work, you know I advocate the creation of onboarding experiences that provide guided interaction, free samples and a personal focus. The value of this educational effort doesn’t stop at new customers. When we build onboarding experiences with other user states in mind, we can create a versatile platform for continued education and engagement. This makes it easier to convince your team to invest in onboarding, and beyond.
I recently gave a talk about designing better first time user experiences for mobile apps, with examples gleaned from my collection of first time user experiences.
Slideshare via Krystal Higgins
In this presentation and in my other work, I stress how we need to move from a mode of telling new users about our value proposition, to a mode of letting users experience it for themselves. We want to show interact, not tell.
Here are 3 ways we can engage new users and get them interacting early:
In a recent presentation, I discussed the role that guided interaction and coaching can play in onboarding new users to a product. Playthroughs and user-guided tutorials are some examples of guided interaction. Guided interaction allows users to start playing with a new product quickly in an authentic context (instead of wading through abstracted coachmarks, instructions or intro tours), but also gives them enough coaching so that they’ll be motivated by an early success.
To help teams explore the right cadence of guided interaction for their product’s new user experience, I created a template to help with judging that interaction between a product and a new user. I’ve been calling it the coaching cadence worksheet. This can be used to audit an existing experience, or to explore variations for a revision or completely new first time ux. The worksheet follows.
I’ve been keeping an ongoing collection of first time user experiences (FTUEs) at http://firsttimeux.tumblr.com/. In this post, I’ve distilled the most common approaches I’ve observed being used today into a list of 8 design patterns and anti-patterns.
Each pattern has a description, pros/cons list, design considerations, and an example. You may recognize a few of these because many are modern takes on well-established UX patterns. My hope is for this to serve as a helpful reference as you develop your own first time user experiences.
Recently, I started a collection of first time user experiences at http://firsttimeux.tumblr.com/
Related to a post I wrote in 2012 about designing good first time user experiences in mobile apps, my hope is that this collection of onboarding experiences can show off the good and the bad, and encourage designers to think more about these oft-underused moments in time.
Do you have a first time experience you think should be included in my collection? Send me some photos, videos or a link to the product and I’ll do my best to include it!
If you’ve downloaded Orchestra’s Mailbox app, you’re probably familiar with this queue screen.
Mailbox is designed to make email simple and manageable with a beautiful, gesture-driven design. So, why the waiting list? According to the company, it’s to prevent servers from crashing and providing a bad experience. The reservation system itself has generated quite a bit of hype, which has in turn increased the number of people getting in line.
So, is this going to be successful for Mailbox? Does this mean all apps should ask users to reserve their service in advance? Here are 4 things, both good and bad, about Mailbox’s approach and what you need to consider before doing it with your app.
Designing good first time user experiences (FTUE) is not a project unique to mobile. It has history in out of the box experiences, software installs, even workplace new hire onboarding. But designing the first time experience for a mobile app does present additional challenges. It’s an important exercise for mobile product teams because it:
- Refines the elevator pitch.
Going through the exercise from a newbie perspective forces teams to think hard about their app’s value proposition. Products only have a short period of time—and limited real estate—to answer, “Why would I use this?”.
- Affects brand perception
A person’s first impression sets the tone for their perception of an app’s brand.
- Impacts customer support
Good out of the box experiences have been shown to reduce customer support costs. Similarly, good first time app experiences may reduce customer support emails and improve reviews in the app store.
- Improves odds that new users will become returning users
With 26% of users deleting an app after first use, the first time use scenario is your only opportunity to give them a reason to return.
Some mobile apps are rehashing mistakes that have already been recognized and overcome in other domains, so I’m covering 4 FTUE best practices that are especially important in the context of mobile apps.