Mural's playful onboarding: the art of education and delight

Mural’s VP of Product Growth walks through their user onboarding process, how they infuse play into their product experience, and how they worked backward from retention to define success.

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Meet Lauren Schuman, the captain of Mural's product growth ship. As the VP of Product Growth, she and her team design the new user onboarding experience. Lauren's mission? To onboard new users with an educational (but playful!) experience—while helping them discover value as quickly as possible.

Lauren was kind enough to give us a recap of how she built and evolved her onboarding experience. While you can catch the full play-by-play in the video above, here are some of the standout moments: 

New users chose a blank canvas over a template 🎨

Surprisingly, the majority of new users chose to start with a blank canvas instead of picking a template. Her hunch is that unless new users have a clear idea of what they want to do from the get-go, choosing a template can feel overwhelming. So they’ve found that most new users wanted to explore a blank canvas to see if Mural met their needs before exploring templates. 

Their six-step onboarding quest 🛡️

Their onboarding experience includes a checklist with six steps—endearingly dubbed their “onboarding quest.” To determine which steps to include, they figured out which actions retained their users and worked backward from there.

They designed their checklist to simplify the setup process while building user confidence in their product. Upon completing a step, they sprinkle in cheerful emoji feedback, injecting a playful element into the experience. But it's not just playfulness; it's real-time validation that you're on the right track—an approach that resonated well with IRL humans in their user testing.

Play to wow—designing for collaboration 🤝  

At Mural, they hold the company value of "play to wow" close to heart—recognizing that play is a crucial ingredient in fostering a culture of collaboration. So, it's not just about the tool or space collaboration unfolds; it's about the approach. The how. What's your mindset? Do you feel psychologically safe? 

They’ve found getting the best collaborative outcomes involves multiple elements. What may appear as lighthearted, playful confetti is really a part of a bigger philosophy they have around designing for collaboration.


Which metrics do you look at to ensure onboarding and activation are working well?

Lauren loves the Reforge framework—which works backward from retention to identify what elements are necessary for someone to get value from your product. Think: What do they have to do in the beginning? Or on an ongoing basis? Then define and benchmark those specific moments. 

By breaking out individual metrics within a larger metric ecosystem, you can spot the areas where you're losing people. This exercise helps focus your work.

 But in general, they’re really measuring the steps of the activation journey.

Which teams work on your product experience to ensure it’s seamless for new users? 

Lauren always says that product-led growth is a team sport. (Preach, Lauren!) 

“Product-led growth is a team sport.” 

She believes it’s not something one team can own—and if you have it set up that way, you're probably missing the point across the rest of your organization.

Her team owns onboarding free and self-serve users, while their customer success growth team takes care of onboarding new enterprise members. They split things up based on a high-touch perspective, recognizing the overlap and distinct needs of each group. This way, there's a lot of knowledge sharing, learning, and hypothesis creation they can do together.

Their personalization team focuses on the dashboard experience, which plays a crucial role in the new user journey. They collaborate closely with them to ensure new and existing members have the right, differentiated experience. 

They also have teammates who run onboarding sessions that gather learnings from talking to IRL humans, and then figuring out what they can apply to the product.

Are there any experiments you’ve run that have surprised you? 

Moving the needle on a high-level metric like activation is not something that you're typically going to do through just one experiment. From her experience, it's the culmination of a whole bunch of improvements over time. Time and time again, that’s always the most surprising. 

For example, Quest (their onboarding checklist) improved user engagement and content creation but didn’t directly boost their high-level metric by itself. 

Another tactical example was improving the navigation in their product. While it helped a lot of previously-confused users, it didn't immediately lead to more users reaching their aha moment. These efforts were just steps towards a better user experience, but it's a cumulative journey over time that’s really effective.