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App Onboarding - The Importance Of Presenting Your App To New Users

icon11 September 2023 (updated 11 September 2023)
icon15 minutes read
icon20 minutes audio
iconMemory Squared

Table of Contents

App onboarding - what does it mean?

Every new app is trying to attract users with its variety of options, usability, and compatibility with other apps or wearable gear. 

Usually, trying to engage the user to download an app is a costly and demanding process. Also, when it finally happens, it's essential to acquaint the user with every functionality and convince them to use it. Users are searching for something that setting up and starting using is easy and convenient enough to know where all the hidden options are. If a tutorial process is too challenging or lengthy, the customer gets bored and searches for a more accessible alternative.

That's why app onboarding is essential in convincing users to use an app.

The app onboarding process is the whole procedure of the user getting familiar with your app, its interface, and all its features.

It's done using a specially created tutorial that is only a one-time event. The tutorial consists of interface interactions and any necessary setup for first-time users or after implementing a new feature or visual improvement. That's why the app onboarding is more comprehensive than occurring only once - it can appear multiple times throughout the app's lifetime. 

Someone working on a tablet with UX/UI sketch
UX and UI are an inherent part of app onboarding creating process - it determines the whole path for the user to follow

User Experience and User Interface Design - basic knowledge

User Experience and User Interface Design, called shortly UX and UI, are the processes in building an app that is essential to creating the app onboarding process.

User Experience focuses on the path that the user must go through to accomplish the goal.

For example, if the user wants to change the language, they have to click on the menu, select settings, find the language setting, and change the language by pressing it and clicking "save." Every option you want to feature in your app has this scenario for the user to pass. This process is vital for defining the key features of the app, which should be more visible and easily accessible, and the additional features that can be a little bit more hidden in the menu.

User Interface is everything that your potential customers will see.

The buttons, the colors, the background, the font - User Interface gathers all these visible sides of an app and lets the customer reach their needed settings quicker. A tidy and simplistic UI is one of the main factors that attract customers - complicated and chaotic-looking apps tend to be less chosen due to the problems with finding the features.

For more information about UX, UI, and app development you can check our article about that!

right arrowApp Development Stages: How Long Does It Take To Make An App?

A statistics of average user retention by industries: retail, SaaS, fintech and edutech
User retention is crucial for the app's liveability and some of the industries are doing it better - which could be an example for others | Source: SurveySparrow

User retention - when existing users leave

Convincing a new customer to use your app between all those existing mobile apps is a great success, but it's only halfway through the app's life. After attracting the user to the app, you should also be able to keep the user attached to it so they won't resign or get bored and abandon the application.

User retention indicates the continuing reuse of your product or feature. It's one of the most critical indicators that shows the liveability of your app. 

Retention rates increased by up to 50% with effective app onboarding
Source: Appcues

App onboarding and user retention - are they connected?

Yes, of course they are! The statistic shows that the app onboarding experience does influence user retention positively. After receiving a few tips about using a product, the customer feels cared for and more stable on their digital feet, which makes them want to use an app even more.

A successful app onboarding helps the customer reach out to your app's features and explore the key functionalities and any additional features hidden in the menu or your app's settings. The more first-time users know about the capabilities of your app, the more they want to stick to it, making the retention indicator higher.

App's onboarding flow - ways of teaching users your app

Now that we know what app onboarding is and the basic concepts surrounding this idea, we can look at the app onboarding process in detail.

While talking about the app onboarding process, we can distinguish two ways of onboarding flows: generic onboarding and contextual onboarding.

Colorful dots on a straight line
Generic onboarding assumes that every feature of an app is described immediately after launching an app

Generic onboarding - an all-in-one solution

Generic onboarding lets the user know everything after the first app opening.

It's a great way to introduce all the app possibilities at once and encourage users to explore them later. It also lets your customer know their options while using the app and where to access them. 

It works like this: after downloading a mobile app, a user launches it. The account registering and signing up option is shown on the screen. When they either log in or create an account, they go through a detailed tutorial that shows every app feature, one by one.

It could be a trap if your app has multiple features; presenting them all at once can be too overwhelming for the user, and they will need to remember all the app's options.

A graph with colorful dots
Contextual onboarding shows a tutorial on some functionalities after reaching them, not after launching an app

Contextual onboarding - step-by-step app experience

Contextual onboarding is another user onboarding flow that breaks the onboarding process into small chunks, which are more accessible for the user to read and understand.

This way, the new user is provided with a manageable amount of information and can focus on the basics of every feature they want to use, extending their knowledge later if needed. 

It works like this: after downloading a mobile app, a user launches it. The account registering and signing up option is shown on the screen. When they either log in or create an account, they get the tutorial on all core functionalities offered on a welcome screen, and the app encourages them to explore all the additional content. When they decide to click on any feature, a shorter tutorial introduces only the connected option. 

While contextual onboarding is a considerable way of presenting a complicated app with many functionalities, it may be challenging to use this onboarding model in apps with fewer features. 

Switching to contextual onboarding - when to do it?

Contextual onboarding is worth considering but will only work with some business types or models. When planning to switch the onboarding process to contextual, there are a few visible advantages of using a contextual onboarding flow:

  • The shorter time, the more value

Contextual onboarding is about dividing a large amount of information into smaller chunks to let the user focus faster and remember all the details of your application. By focusing solely on the most pertinent steps, users can save time while still experiencing the total value of the product. And if they want to check another functionality, they can click on it. 

  • Less text, less confusion

Nowadays, only a few people have time to sit down and read walls of text about operating an app. Contextual onboarding makes the whole process more accessible for the user, generating fewer questions and confusion. Customers are less likely to abandon the app if they clearly understand how it works. 

  • Customization of onboarding 

A gamified tutorial? A company mascot introducing your app and asking for additional user information? Suppose you want to customize your onboarding experience. In that case, contextual onboarding works better in this type of process since there are a lot of smaller pieces that are more customization-friendly than extensive long tutorials.

Core functionalities of onboarding

While every app is different and has different UX and UI needs, some elements should be standard for every app tutorial. Onboarding screens are a part of your app's recognizability, leading to your app's success. To motivate your users to stay with your app, incorporate these onboarding elements into your app's process.

Hello world!
A "Hello world!" command is the most recognizable line for every programming beginner - there's a reason for that!

Hello world!

It's not strange that the first thing the newbies are trying to code is a welcome message. The greeting is the most basic form of communication, the first word you see while learning a foreign language.

That's why the welcoming screen in apps is this important - it's the first thing the new user sees after launching your product.

Overlooking this onboarding detail costs you a wrong first impression, which could lose you a customer.

Splash screen - a drop of your product

A splash screen is the first thing your client sees after launching your app - that's why a splash screen is also called a launch or welcome screen. It's the image they see while the app is loading - for example, in most social media apps, it's the screen with their logo and the loading strip. Your splash screen doesn't have to be boring, though - it can contain a welcoming message, some hints for the app, or something that will improve your users' day and encourage them to use it.

Personalized setup experience

Customers tend to like the personalization of their app, even if that's something as small as the color of the app's theme or the widgets in the menu. There's always room for improvement - a customized avatar, a little gamification, and exchangeable icons. All of these small things can increase your app's likeability. But not only that is important in the onboarding process - by asking your user some questions, you can determine how your tutorial would look like.

Let's consider a language teaching app - if a user is willing to learn a language that uses a different kind of alphabet than Latin, it's evident that you show them where they can change their keys from Latin to another language. Also, the app's mascot or avatar can sometimes say a sentence or two in the language the user is currently learning - it's also a part of the personalized experience.

Guidance - how to show your users what you want them to know

After the user ends all the fun stuff, like their avatar and nickname, this is where the real deal starts. You must show the user everything your product can do in the most efficient, non-boring way. There are a few ways to guide your new client to success, in this meaning - to use your app.

Carrousels - guide-go-round

Carrousel is a model of app onboarding flow in which the instruction is shown on the whole screen, and the user can swipe the message to the next window. Adding some strips showing how many letters are left is a popular idea that helps the user see how much time they have to spend on the app onboarding, so instead of quickly swiping through the instructions, they can find a moment to focus more on this task.

Lightboxes - can't ignore me! 

Lightboxes are also called "pop-ups" or "modals." This onboarding screen, when needed, creates a pop-up window on the screen and dims or darkens the background, making the user focus on the message shown in the frame. This way, the client concentrates on the text and, after completing the tutorial, can use the knowledge immediately on the feature.

Tooltips - pull the trigger

Tooltips are concise, condensed messages showing only after clicking an icon, usually a question mark or a gear sign. It should be quick and easy to read and concerned only with the matter that the icon is next to.

Hover box - Internet's soap bubbles

The hover box is an onboarding flow that is neither a tooltip nor a traditional pop-up. The message in the bubble pops up when you point to an element with the cursor. While it's not necessarily an onboarding flow, it's wise to incorporate this type of hint throughout your app.

Sticky footer - can't resist them

A sticky footer is a floating banner that continually appears on the bottom of the screen, even while scrolling through the page or app. This way, the user can receive a hint anytime and won't waste time searching for the help tab.

How to onboard your new user?

While considering implementing a proper app onboarding, there are a few things that you should always consider and some that are redundant for the onboarding flow.

What should the onboarding contain...

Firstly, everyone likes to be praised and to achieve success. It's the same while planning an onboarding experience - start with things that are easy to accomplish and motivate the user into immersing themself in the tutorial. Only then start incorporating features that are harder to understand - a motivated user will be more likely to go through a more complicated tutorial.

Adding a "skip" button should also be taken into consideration. Some users like to explore the app entirely by themselves; some could be the coming back users who want to avoid going through the onboarding again. Regardless of the reason, it's a feature worth implementing.

Another core functionality of proper app onboarding is the customization of the experience. During the account creation, the app should ask the user questions and prepare the onboarding of the essential features for them. This way, the tutorial can adjust the number of onboarding steps to the minimum, making users happier.

Gamification of the onboarding is always a good possibility. Games are known for their successful player onboarding and high user retention, so they became software to keep their eyes on.

...And this you should omit

The onboarding should take a little time. Users are impatient; they want to start using the app quickly, so the longer the tutorial takes, the less the user will likely stay through the whole process. A short introduction should be enough for the user to get curious.

It would be best if you also remembered to include only the topics of your app in the onboarding. Suppose you mention an external matter, like compatibility between certain apps. In that case, it's better to place a hyperlink to a website about that, not to include it in the onboarding. Particular topics concerning external matters of the app should be kept from the onboarding.

Best onboarding apps - examples

Let's look at some best practices - that's how you can do the onboarding creatively and excitingly. We will highlight only some of the possibilities, but there are many more unique onboarding flows to check and discover!

Games are doing it right

In the gaming industry, a tutorial is the most crucial moment - if it's monotonous and prolonged, the player will resign from playing the game before it even starts. On the other hand, it's obligatory to show the player all the keys and combinations so they know how to play the game. That's why the developers have to get creative with their onboarding flows.

The Legend of Zelda - The Breath of the Wild tutorial fragment
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

While The Legend of Zelda games are legendary just by themselves, let's look at their onboarding. In Breath of the Wild, you're immediately sent into the world of Hyrule and immersed in the presented story. The game offers a basic tutorial, showing which key you should use in which situation, but nothing else. Players are encouraged to explore and check everything by themselves from the start. The Breath of Wild's tutorial is a form of an exploration quest that helps the player adapt to all the keys and combos freely.

Undertale tutorial fragment
  • Undertale

Undertale is a game about a little human who fell into a world of creatures other than humans. This game also offers a small tutorial, but the tutorial itself is the start of the greatest mystery of the game. It remembers your actions throughout the gameplay - starting with the tutorial itself. Ultimately, the player would learn that they should only trust some things written on the game's screen.

A Revolut logo
Banking apps require an easy, but secure way of onboarding their customers - they're dealing with sensitive data that cannot be leaked

Many-data-needing apps

Data-needing portals are another type of app where onboarding is essential and extremely difficult. While the app must receive information, filling out a lengthy form demotivates the user, which could become a tricky challenge for an inexperienced team.

  • Revolut - a banking app always needs many data

Revolut gained popularity very quickly in the last few years. But, as a banking service, it needs many data to open an account for a new user while ensuring that the client is not an artificially generated person. Securing the data and filling out the forms would be a real pain for any impatient client, so the company changed its approach. Instead of making the client fill out all the documents, they ask for a photo of the ID and the client's face. The specially developed program analyses both pictures and confirms the user's identity. This way, the onboarding flow became very short and pleasant for a new client. What a relief!

Logos of Drops and Lirica apps
Educational apps, while fairly popular, face the most difficulty in raising user retention

Language learning apps

Language learning apps are another type where onboarding is crucial for user retention. The user must set up the language they want to learn, but the app must also explain how it works and what the learning looks like. At the same time, it must engage the user so they feel how the knowledge flows through them.

  • Drops - expand your vocabulary

Drops is an enjoyable, easy-to-set vocabulary learning app. When the user decides which language to focus on, the app shows them how to solve different exercises. The learning process is based on both listening and visual memory, allowing different types of learners to choose their most effective method. The app is also pleasingly colorful, motivating the users to keep learning.

  • Lirica - everybody loves music!

Most of us listen to music every day. Whether it's rap, pop, or heavier sounds in English, Italian, Spanish, or German - people love music, regardless of knowing what the piece is about. That's where Lirica comes to help - this language learning app shows the lyrics of the most famous songs and helps to understand and acquire new vocabulary. This way, the students can do two things they like at once!

Primate's logo
The personalization of diet catering is a real challenge - a good onboarding is helping tremendously in understanding how to create the best diet!

Diet catering - create your food and have it delivered

The last exciting onboarding is anything connected with food, especially if it's not just one dish. That's why onboarding in catering services is so important - the client must be content with the meal they're receiving. In the case of diet catering, it's even more intricate - the values of micronutrients must all be in place.

  • Primate - delicious food under your door

Primate is a Polish diet catering app offering various kinds of diets and different options for ingredient exclusions. The client can set everything up at the beginning of the onboarding - the allergies, the ingredients they want to include or exclude, and the number of calories they wish to receive with every meal set. This way, the client can always get the exact dish they need. Everything is neatly packed and delivered fresh at the beginning of the day. How convenient!

App onboarding = app success

Proper app onboarding can be crucial in user retention and your app's success. It's imperative to thoroughly plan the onboarding process and design it to be attractive to customers, but there will always be room for improvement. That's why it's crucial to evaluate the onboarding process and remember to check the web analytics indicators systematically. It will help experiment with the onboarding process to make it even more appealing and plan user satisfaction surveys. Any feedback from the users would be beneficial while planning the onboarding process improvement. 

As mentioned earlier, the app onboarding doesn't occur only with the first app opening - it also happens after every new feature or cosmetics implementation so that it will be present throughout the app's lifetime - that's why, while improving your app, you shouldn't forget about improving the onboarding either. 

If you need a reliable, experienced team to discuss your app's onboarding, we would gladly brainstorm and design the process tailored to your app!

Memory Squared

Memory Squared - Design Driven Software House
Memory Squared - Design Driven Software House

At Memory Squared we connect humans and computers by creating digital products that meet real needs and inspire genuine emotions and interactions. We would love to share our story and experience with You.

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