Mobile app onboarding: best practices and examples

The first few moments of using a brand new app are crucial. Take a look at some great examples and best practices and impress users from the get-go!

Designers all over the world fear app abandonment. It’s a real fear — users are quick to download apps and delete them once interest is lost. But how can we stop the abandonment and help users get past those crucial first moments of contact?

That’s why we put together a list of mobile apps that nailed that first introduction, with many different approaches and takes on onboarding. Let’s take a look at those that made a good impact and delivered an onboarding sequence that truly helps users.

On app onboarding: the two approaches

Most designers are quick to understand how important app onboarding can be. In fact, we can all agree that the design team needs to do everything they can to encourage users to get past the initial learning curve and flatten that app abandonment rate. Here’s something on which there is still a bit of debate: what is the right approach to app onboarding?

By the right approach, we refer to the two prevailing philosophies about app onboarding. Jason Fried, from Basecamp, put it beautifully: “‘Here’s what our app can do’ and ‘Here’s what you can do with our app’ sound similar, but they are completely different approaches”. He’s absolutely right. Design teams everywhere try to settle on one of the two, and build a whole onboarding experience from it.

While it’s true that there’s a fair amount of debate on what the best way to introduce users to the app and make a quick sale of its biggest features, we do have a few constants. We like to think of these constants as tools that designers have at their disposal to create a truly interactive and interesting app onboarding experience.

From getting users to see the main benefit of the app, to making the experience interactive or teaching them to use the tool — it’s all about getting users past those crucial initial moments. Let’s see how designers can boost their app onboarding with the following best practices.

App onboarding: best practices

Have a tailored plan

By that, we mean that it’s important to treat your app onboarding as another crucial element in the user experience. Just like we carry out extensive research on who users are and create an entire design around the user’s mental models and personas, we must create an onboarding experience that reflects who the user is.

There are a few factors to consider here. Firstly, consider your users. Are they young and tech-savy? Are they familiar with the main function of the app? You want to understand who they are and how much of an introduction they need in order to obtain some benefit from the product.

Another important aspect of users is their expectations. You don’t want to bombard them with information, but you can’t let the product fall short of expectations.

Secondly, consider your product. Does it have many different features? Is it complex in nature? How long is the learning curve? Can we shorten that curve? You want to showcase the product’s strengths and get the user to see the big advantages that are waiting for them at the end of the learning process.

Tell users how much they have left

Nobody likes waiting. There’s a reason why app onboarding sequences tend to be brief and to the point. Users tend to be excited to try a new app for the first time, to explore and mess around in their own time. Onboarding can be a powerful way to jumpstart that exploration of possibilities, but it can’t stretch on for too long — user’s excitement doesn’t last forever.

That’s why we see progress bars in the checkout process of so many platforms. Users want to know their progress, and how long the whole onboarding sequence is — and as designers, we like to please users.

Make it casual and interactive

Most people don’t want to be lectured or even attend a class on the brand new app they just downloaded. They want to jump straight into the user experience. That’s why it’s always a good idea to lighten the tone and turn the introductory class into a conversation. The truly great app onboarding sequences out there take this opportunity to add some brand personality, so that the whole thing feels like a simple chat with the app.

The same applies to making the app onboarding interactive. This is about making the onboarding feel less like a one-sided monologue and more like that casual conversation we just mentioned. Designers have all sorts of smart ways to add interaction to the onboarding, from a simple scrolling or swiping, to full-blown conversations with a chat bot (Slack-style!).

Read this tutorial and learn how to prototype a grocery app if you’re looking for something different.

Know the right moment to ask for things

This is a simple matter that can still arouse strong feelings in users. Some people simply don’t like apps bombarding them with requests to grant permissions, like push notifications, or personal information, like billing data. When it comes to onboarding, there’s such a thing as overstepping.

This is worth remembering when it comes to permissions, grants, sensitive information and even tasks that require general effort from users. For example, many great apps out there allow users to signup, explore and have fun before they start asking for more information to complete the user profile.

This is about postponing the things that require either effort of trust, giving the user some room to grow more familiar and comfortable with the product and the brand.

App onboarding examples to learn from

1. Slack

In desktop, Slack makes onboarding an easy process by getting users to talk to the chatbot. This makes the onboarding feel effortless, and reflects how Slack keeps pushing the boundaries in the UX game. In the app, the sequence is simplified into four screens that help the user set up or connect to their workplace and coworkers.

We love that the information the app asks of users is kept to a bare minimum, with the main goal being the user having the workspace ready for action. The illustrations exemplify the key areas of the app, but the onboarding is short enough that it lets users free to explore on their own.

The wrap up

App onboarding is all about getting users to see the big benefits of having the app and showcasing the strongest points of the design. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to onboarding experiences, there’s a general goal of helping the user get set up and giving them the tools to enjoy the experience.

Hopefully, these app onboarding examples gave you a good idea how you can make your onboarding interactive, interesting and constructive!

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