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Best Practices for UX Onboarding

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Onboarding is traditionally a human resource related-term borrowed by UX designers to reference the touchpoint where users first start using and interacting with an app or website. It’s purpose is to guide and educate new users about the product, going through aspects such as its benefits, features, and a basic guide on how to navigate around.

Research conducted by has shown that up to to 97% of companies say that good user onboarding is necessary for a company’s growth. So what exactly makes onboarding so important and why is it so highly prioritised amongst companies? This article will talk about the importance of onboarding as well as 5 key practices to create a strong and effective user onboarding experience.

Why onboarding?

1. Good first impression and user retention

Getting people to first use and stay on an app is very difficult. The average app loses 77% of its daily active users the first 3 days after installation. Be it clicking on a tooltip or arriving on a landing page, having a strong first impression is necessary to retain users, which can be achieved through a perfect onboarding experience.

By getting users hooked onto the benefits and features of the product in the onboarding phase, they are more likely to stay on and continue using the app after. This is especially necessary seeing as there is high competition between many similar apps and websites. Users that do not understand or find value in a product would quickly switch to another without exploring further. Having proper onboarding also provides a better user experience overall, as it serves as a good foundation to introduce users to the app.

2. A necessary investment

Good onboarding is not just another feature or introduction for new users, companies should also view it as a necessary investment. It is crucial in both increasing user conversion and decreasing customer support costs in the long run. A case study by CuePath has shown that their self-serve user onboarding has reduced support calls by up to 72%, especially since users are briefed on what to do and where to look.

Statistics have also shown that increasing the user’s retention by 5% has the potential to boost profits by 25-95%. The onboarding process serves more than just to educate users, it is an essential factor to boost key metrics such as user retention and product loyalty.

Users having been briefed through the app allows them to understand the overall layout and functionality, such as how different features work together thus, decreasing the instances of them being confused or lost. This aspect has become highly important in today’s world, where even the less technologically savvy groups of people such as the elderly are being introduced to technology such as using mobile apps or websites.

Take a look at the case of TraceTogether, a digital system implemented by Singapore’s government for contact tracing in immediate response to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Singapore citizens of all ages were pushed to use the mobile app to check-in their location in order to enter places like shopping malls or restaurants. This is a key instance where onboarding becomes a necessity to facilitate the sudden uptake of the application to the mass public, especially to those who are unfamiliar to this area.

5 Best practices for best user onboarding experiences

1. Reduce friction as much as possible

Having difficult tasks or complexity even in the on-boarding process can cause heavy friction which in turn causes users to abandon the app. A potential pitfall of onboarding is that sometimes it can actually turn out more complicated and time-consuming than actually using the app itself.

Thus, tailoring the onboarding experience to the target users and the app is key to preventing this. If the app is simple (e.g. calendar app) the onboarding should be fast and simple as well and vice versa. New users should be given a more in-depth onboarding compared to experienced users. A good practice would be to ask the users about their level of experience for such apps first and tailor their onboarding session accordingly. Reducing cognitive overload for a better user experience should be taken note of when crafting the onboarding process.

The example below shows how onboarding can be further customised to fit the user’s needs, especially for more complex products.

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2. Having a focus

With so many different categories of digital products nowadays, creating an onboarding session that matches the product’s functionality and userbase does wonder for user engagement. Onboarding can be categorised into three main types: benefits-oriented, function-oriented and progressive onboarding.

Focusing on one key aspect can allow onboarding features to better draw in their users. This can be achieved through looking at the user persona, user experience journey, gaining insights into what they want from the app. For example, a stock trading app would focus more on showcasing its functions as most of its users would already know what they are using the app for and are sifting around for one with the best features.


3. Show user progress

It can be easy for new users to get impatient or distracted during the onboarding phase. Besides ensuring that the process is concise and engaging, having progress bars or a task list can be very helpful in setting user expectations and letting them know which stage they are currently at. For example, if the user expects the task to be completed in 3 minutes but it actually takes more than that, they will not have a positive experience. Showing user progress also helps them to establish a logical flow and understand how the different features introduced are linked together.

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4. Keep it engaging, fun, and casual

Although onboarding is necessary to teach new users about the app, most users are not looking to attend a lengthy lesson or lecture on it. It is better to show, don’t tell, keeping onboarding digestible, interactive, and fun for the users, making it more like an engaging activity instead. Some good practices are to add engaging graphics, interactive features for users to try out, and concise yet useful texts.

The example below uses bold colors, beautiful graphics, and engaging texts to help users easily understand its 3 key app functions and benefits.

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Another example shows how they engage users by providing them with activities that users can interact with while onboarding, such as moving the cursor. It also breaks down their onboarding lessons into different parts so users save time by only picking the ones they need.

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Slack uses simple yet effective popups to introduce their different functions and corresponding buttons, teaching users how to navigate through the actual app.

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5. Bring in that WOW moment

With so many tasks and activities for users to try, remember to also celebrate their successes and emphasise the key moment where it finally clicks for them. The moment where the users successfully complete their tasks provides a great opportunity to establish a positive emotional connection with them. Celebrate their success and encourage them! Users that experience positive moments during their initial usage would have a higher chance of staying with the app.

Notice how MailChimp adopts a casual and friendly tone to speaks to its users at every step, encouraging their users as they successfully complete a task. This is a way of adding fun and positivity throughout the process.


Be it a website or mobile onboarding UX, the process should be a priority for companies hoping to improve profits and stand out from the competition. It is the first step of the customer journey and key to providing a good user experience. We hope that this article has provided better insights into the importance of onboarding in digital products and some ideas on how to better implement it.

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