I recently came across a great video Tutorial 101, which lays forward basic design rules for building a tutorial in a video game. The very same principles apply when designing a user onboarding experience in web based applications and can have significant impact on its effectiveness.
1. Keep your message short
Long texts work poorly on the web. Do not rely only on text to convey your message. The best practice is to combine a “show & tell” approach and give quick, easily digestible information to help move your user along.
2. Encourage use through learning
Help your users to master your app by having them perform a common task. Walk them through the actions and introduce interface features and navigation, so that the second time around it’s a familiar and quick process. We find a good example of point 1 and 2 implemented in the ToDoist app for iOS.
3. Don’t overwhelm
This one ties neatly with point 1. If you try to teach your users everything about the app right away you run the risk of driving the engagement to the ground. The secret here is to place relevant contextual help in the right places to provide tips on the task at hand. Let them progress through the app and place help tips like breadcrumbs, which will lead them to success. This was greatly done by Facebook with their recent app Paper.
4. Acknowledge achievements
It’s important to keep users informed of their progress. Just like in mobile games players unlock levels and prizes, it’s rewarding to see your achievement and helps to keep up engagement. Provide short messages to notify of task completion, new feature, etc.
5. Listen to your users
As you spend countless hours immersed in your product it’s easy to forget that most of your users will be completely new to the concepts of your application. Test with real people and observe where they get stuck. This may reveal surprising areas for improvement, which can be pivotal for your success.