How to design perfect user onboarding

Full disclosure: perfect is impossible, but these five tips will get you close

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Jonathan Anderson
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We designed Candu, UI editor for SaaS apps, to help teams build product experiences natively without coding. But, assuming you could build anything, what should you build?

We’ve interviewed 100 onboarding experts, from product managers to customer success managers, to understand what it means to make an onboarding experience great.

In doing so, we’ve discovered a shared belief that a great onboarding is one that’s data-driven, iterative, and personal. Here are five rules of thumb for making the experience all that it should be.

🕴 1. Focus on the why as much as the how.

Trust that your users can figure out where to click; what they may not know is why to click, and the onus is on you to help them understand the value of your product.

Too often, the focus of in-product education is in showing users how to accomplish a task. What’s more important is helping them understand which problems need solving and the business impact of solving those problems.

Carter G. Woodson said, “The mere imparting of information is not education,” and that holds true for your product. If you’re focusing on the how at the expense of the why, you’re missing an opportunity to deliver real value to your users.

💄 2. Make your onboarding experience your product experience.

There’s a difference between fixing a problem and papering over it. While a WYSIWYG might cover up any underlying problems with your user onboarding UI, fixing the native user experience creates far more leverage in your core product.

WYSIWYG editors can inadvertently create visual bugs that can be hard to replicate and trace. But, more to the point, they often rely on snatching a user’s attention, interrupting the flow of work.

Improving the underlying UI, on the other hand, allows users to explore at their own pace while gaining familiarity with your product as it is.

🤓 3. Create, learn, iterate. Repeat.

Your onboarding needs to move as quickly as you do, so treat it as a first draft, and plan to improve it over time.

Once your “first-draft” onboarding is live, you can gather qualitative insights from customers and quantitative insights from product analytics. Then, you can continuously apply the valuable knowledge you’ve gained from your data to improve the onboarding experience.

Each time a user experiences your product, it’s an opportunity to learn something new and apply it to your original onboarding. Don’t squander it!

🐣 4. Evolve with your users.

By its nature, nothing in SaaS is static, and onboarding shouldn’t stop at activation.

As your product evolves, current user needs will adapt. At the same time, new users will join accounts while others leave.

Onboarding, therefore, can’t be a one-and-done-proposition. Instead, it’s a continuous journey where your users’ adoption habits will clue you in to what features are most valuable. Let the users take the lead on this journey, and follow their evolving needs over time.

💌 5. Make it personal.

There’s a reason traditional TV is dying a slow death. It’s because services like Netlfix deliver hand-picked content that matches viewers’ interests. Personalization in your product onboarding is just as compelling.

You don’t need a perfect onboarding; you need onboardings — plural!

Users will have different needs and different levels of comfort with your software, and they will gain proficiency at different rates. Rather than providing a one-size-fits-all solution, the onboarding experience should meet users where they are.


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