First impression matters. When a user discovers your product, he won’t take the time to tame it. If he lives a bad experience for a few seconds, you can lose him forever. Sounds cruel, right? This is why working on a better user experience (UX) is essential for your product. Starting with the onboarding is a good idea because it will make you retain the most users. Creating a flawless experience for this crucial moment will make your product easily discoverable, understandable, shareable… and more and more users will add it to their routine.As a UX designer, I have read a lot about user onboarding. I recently had the opportunity to work on a new onboarding process for DoYouBuzz, a platform that allows job seekers to create, design and share online resumes. Here are 11 things I learnt from this experience. It’s certainly nothing new, but it’s a good recap for myself that I will use and challenge to create better onboarding experiences in the future.

1. It’s all about timing

There are three main stages on an onboarding experience: signing up, understanding your core feature, and coming back. We could even add a phase 0 which would be the moment your user gets in touch with your product (a landing page for instance). Those three moments each have a distinct role that should be designed with care.

During phase 1 (signing up): make things quick and easy. Don’t overwhelm users with information. During phase 2 (understanding the product): be clear and transparent. You want to remove all friction and frustration that could be driven by a bad understanding of your product. During phase 3 (coming back): wow your users so they won’t forget you.

2. Transparency is the key

When you first explain your product to new users, be as transparent as you can. Reassure your users about your pricing, features, and even the limits of your product. I’m not saying you should underrate your product, but try to be clear about what you’re offering. Don’t get carried away, too much text isn’t necessary. But still, be specific: wording is important. As a non-native English speaker, I learnt it the hard way.

Example of Slack (the onboarding bible) with the example of Slack

3. Make signing up relevant

Make your sign up experience as short as you can. People don’t want to bother with a huge form before even knowing if they will like your product or not. I like the example of Duolingo which makes the user test the interface to understand how it works before giving their email address. (seriously, I read this website on rainy days) with the example of Duolingo

Slack is also a good example as it has eliminated the password creation with a “magic link” sent directly to your mailbox.

Slack’s magic link

4. Avoid endless tutorials

Onboarding tutorials are irritating. No one is actually paying attention to them and most of us end up swiping as fast as we can to make them disappear. It isn’t a good idea to tell everything that your product does before even letting the user understand its concept. Use a contextual onboarding strategy to give information your user needs only when he actually needs it.

Vevo onboarding tutorial

5. Highlight your solution

Your onboarding experience should explain to the user how to achieve his goal, not how your product works. This is what onboarding specialist Samuel Hulick said: “People don’t buy products, they buy better versions of themselves”.

This is also the reason why you shouldn’t interrupt a user’s momentum. Your user is trying to achieve something with your product and interrupting his actions to say something that can be completely irrelevant for him is more than annoying. Contextual onboarding is essential. Track the moments when your user needs help and bring him little tips then, and only then. Again, you don’t need to write a lot, one sentence and/or a visual is often enough, and add a link or a button to help the user act.

6. Show, don’t tell

Stop telling people what to do, make them do it. Make people interact with your interface from the beginning of their experience on your platform. As soon as your users will make decisions and interact with your interface, they will feel at home. A good example here is Slack that added visuals to its onboarding slides to tell users what and how they will achieve what they came for. Show the environnement your user will use even before having them on your platform.

Slack’s onboarding experience

7. Use empty states

Use your product empty states to give information. When your user arrives on your interface but there’s nothing yet… show him the way! Show him what he can create and how. For example, if you build a note taking app but there’s zero note yet: show the user an example note that highlights the final result of what a note will look like. This is again a good way to show instead of telling. Plus, showing an example will save time for your user who won’t have to build everything from scratch to see the end result.

InVision “empty” boards explain how to create clever boards with complete examples

8. Communicate, don’t harass

To bring contextual information to your user, you need to communicate with him. The way you give him help has to be clear and consistent, otherwise he will feel harassed and close all your alerts without even reading them. Having a lot of bubbles popping over your interface isn’t a great idea, especially if they all look different and pop from different places. Remember this simple rule: if it’s the same kind of information, it should have the same behaviour and graphic treatment. Use the context to locate your alerts and show them only when the user needs them. Always allow your user to skip alerts, but not without saying where he can find the information back.

9. Key features first

Designing an onboarding experience for your product is a great way to make you think about it: what are its key features? What should users remember about it? Why would users want to come back? It is a good way to build an hierarchy between your features and what your product is about, so it’s a good way for yourself to focus on what’s important. When you are onboarding new users, remove distractions to keep them focused on how to achieve their goal.

If you have several key features, explain them one after another. We never go from “Hello nice to meet you” to “Will you marry me?”. There are steps to follow in a certain order to make things right.

10. Make your users come back

More than making your users live a flawless first experience, ensure that your critical feature is learned in the first session. Your users should leave this first session with the feeling that they have accomplished something and that there are much more to accomplish in the future. Give your users their daily amount of motivation: highlight their early successes to encourage them to keep going. Duolingo is one of the best with this strategy. It makes you translate sentences that are so easy that no one could fail, but with the feeling that you are almost fluent. with the example of Duolingo

To make your users come back, you can also extend the dialog with a clever emailing strategy.

11. Make your onboarding evolve

Don’t forget to make your onboarding evolve with your product. Your main feature may change, the way you understand your own product may change too. Regularly challenging your onboarding can help you being in phase with your product and improve it.

Also, onboarding isn’t only for first users. You can use the onboarding mechanisms you built to introduce new features and to build a strong dialog with your regular users. After all, great relationships aren’t built in a day, so keep the magic alive!


Keep in mind that your onboarding process is your product front door. You should make it worth it by avoiding bringing frustration after this first impression. After you onboarded your users, make the whole user experience of your product as smooth as possible.

Try as much as you can to put yourself into your new users’ shoes, and don’t forget that if you don’t fully understand the goal of your product yourself, you won’t be able to explain it to others.


Written by Charlotte Sferruzza

UI/UX designer working on tangible interfaces and innovative services.