UX Design

Everything You Need to Know About Onboarding UX

2 minutes read
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It doesn't matter how slick your app looks—the design of your onboarding experience is useless if it doesn't capture users' attention and show the value of your product.

When your onboarding UX is appealing and easy-to-use, you leave a positive first impression that delights users and keeps them coming back to your product. The visual aspects alone can outline how the product works and highlight its value. This reminds them exactly what they're paying for and why it's worth it.

To craft an engaging onboarding UX, marketers and designers can refer to proven patterns and practices for inspiration. Below we've compiled the best resources for connecting with users through your onboarding experience design. 

Here's everything you need to know about:

  • How real companies engage users with onboarding UX
  • Picking onboarding UX patterns that work for your product
  • Applying user psychology for engaging onboarding UX
  • Testing to improve your onboarding UX
  • Mistakes to avoid in onboarding UX
  • Plugins to deck out your onboarding UX

Check out the links below to see how other companies have engaged more users and increased customer retention through their user onboarding design.

How real companies engage users with onboarding UX

There's no single formula for captivating onboarding UX — every product and app is too different. Having said that, incorporating design elements that have worked for other companies into your onboarding experience is an easy way to set up your product for success. These resources break down onboarding UX examples to highlight what design choices successfully guide users to take meaningful action.

  • User Onboarding Throwdown: Canva vs Piktograph: Canva and Piktograph share the same designer functions and audiences, so it's easy to stack up the two products and compare their onboarding UX. In this piece, we inspect each element of Canva and Piktograph's onboarding and explain what makes different design choices more user-friendly.
  • User Onboarding Starts with a Good Landing PageA landing page is the first detailed account of your product that a user sees after engaging with an ad or promotion you released. It sets the stage for the user to sign up for your product and begin the onboarding process. We've highlighted different landing page examples to show how this onboarding element is an opportunity to connect with users, help them use your product, and encourage future usage.

Picking onboarding UX patterns that work for your product

Your user onboarding design doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. Any design problem you're tackling has probably been solved by an application or product before yours. Here are a few guides to help you pick an established onboarding UX pattern that acclimates your users and quickly gets them to their Aha! moment.

  • Choosing the Right User Onboarding UX PatternOnboarding UX patterns aren't one-size-fits-all. They shape how a product is perceived by users in different, functional ways, such as educating users or making an announcement. This guide covers three types of user onboarding design patterns, and explains which types of products and messaging are the most suitable for each pattern.
  • We Categorized 327 User Onboarding Experiences Into 9 UI / UX Patterns (Find Out Which You Should Use): Knowing the most common onboarding design elements is key to figuring out what your own onboarding may be missing. For this piece, we analyzed 327 user onboarding experiences to identify 9 essential UX patterns. We offer design tips and advice on when to use each pattern to help you enhance your product's onboarding design.
  • Product Tours: When to Use Which UI PatternWith onboarding UX, the right pattern can turn an unhelpful product tour into one that engages users and brings them to their Aha! moment. This piece reviews 5 product tour patterns, highlights their strengths, and offers advice on picking a pattern that aligns with your tour's purpose.
  • 5 Best-in-Class Examples of User Onboarding Checklists: Checklists break complex systems into steps in ways that help even expert practitioners avoid mistakes. For processes where execution is too big a task to commit to memory, checklists are invaluable—like in user onboarding.

Applying user psychology for engaging onboarding UX

The design of an onboarding process has to take into account users' motivations to encourage these people to engage with the product. When designers understand users' goals, they can craft the onboarding UX to highlight how the product meets users' specific wants. Here are a few guides on utilizing user psychology in your onboarding design to satisfy users' wants and increase product usage.

  • Personalizing User Onboarding is the Best Growth Hack in the GamePersonalizing your onboarding process has been shown to improve activation and retention rates. This tactic effectively holds others' interest because it makes users feel appreciated, builds familiarity, and allows them to customize your product to their unique needs. This guide covers how companies, like Pinterest and Duolingo, have successfully personalized their onboarding UX.
  • A Beginners' Guide to User Journey Mapping: User journey mapping is an opportunity to check your onboarding design. Looking at each step, you want to make sure your onboarding UX highlights how the product serves user motives, encouraging them to use it more in the future. In this guide, we cover what a user journey map is, how to create one, and show examples of maps from several companies.

Testing to improve your onboarding UX

Engaging onboarding design is responsive to constantly changing user wants. With these shifting user interests, onboarding UX has to be iterative in order to be effective. These guides explain a few different testing methods to assess how your onboarding design is being used in the real world and whether it's providing users with the value they want.

  • Getting Customer Insights with User TestsLaunching a bad onboarding UX can mean losing potential customers and revenue — not a fun loss after spending so much time designing your onboarding. Avoid that risk by user testing your onboarding design. In this piece, we cover how to set up your user test, recruiting the right people for testing, and tips on crafting the test of your onboarding experience.
  • Minimum Viable Usability TestingIf you don't have time to conduct a thorough user test on your onboarding, there are also quick ways to collect feedback. User insights can be gathered in no time to help you improve your onboarding UX. This guide reviews 4 methods for quickly setting up user tests to assess your product's onboarding design.

Mistakes to avoid in onboarding UX

When creating the user experience for your onboarding flows, the stakes are even higher to get it right. After all, no one thinks, "this is bad onboarding." They think, "this is a bad product." Designers should keep in mind these pitfalls as they begin to design their onboarding flows.

  • 4 Examples of Bad User Onboarding That Will Ruin Your UXChances are that your onboarding process is causing the bottleneck. You've been elbow-deep in your product, but what makes sense to you might not make sense to users. So, we've researched four examples of elements that make for a bad onboarding experience and will show you how to fix them.
  • Really Bad UX Mistakes That Even Great Teams Make: When overlooked for too long, really bad UX mistakes will frustrate and even alienate your users. In this article, we break down some really bad UX mistakes that show up even in popular products with talented teams. Learn these mistakes and understand why they don't work so that you can avoid them in your own product—or, if some of these look familiar, understand the fix so you can work towards a better overall experience for your user.
  • 3 Underrated Fundamentals of UX: People love apps that feel fast, feel good, and feel intuitive. Luckily, that's easy to achieve when you turn your attention to your app's perceived speed, familiarity, and branding. Your users won't be able to put their finger on it, but improving these will make your app feel on point from day one.

Plugins to deck out your onboarding UX

There's no need for a designer to become an expert programmer when there's plugins, software components that can be added to apps and products to include extra features. Designers can easily add in plugins to enhance their product's onboarding design. These resources break down the best plugins for every element of your onboarding UX.

  • 73 Tooltip Plugins Made With jQuery, CSS, JavaScript, or MoreA tooltip is a message that appears when you hover over or touch an element. Across industries, almost all apps use tooltips to guide users in their onboarding UX. In this piece, we list 73 tooltip plugins to easily implement into your onboarding design.
  • 67 Open Source Modal Window Plugins Made with jQuery, JavaScript, CSS, and more!A modal is a window at the top of a product's main page, such as a welcome message for users. A designer who's familiar with coding can implement modals into their onboarding UX with open source plugins. This piece covers 67 open source modal plugins to consider and add to your product's onboarding design.

Bonus: Learn the EMBED framework for onboarding UX

We recently revamped our extensive User Onboarding Academy to follow the EMBED framework for user onboarding—Establish, Map, Brainstorm, Execute, and Do It Again. Register and binge the whole academy for free today.

[Editor's note: We've refreshed this article from a previous version that was published in November 2017. Enjoy!]

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