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App Design

Simple is better: Mobile user onboarding

Amine Bellakrid
Amine Bellakrid
Simple is better: Mobile user onboarding
January 30, 2019
min read

Over-complicated UX or UI is one of the biggest mistakes we see mobile app creators make. Too many apps try to fit in too many features. Or worse, they ask their users to do the heavy lifting. At the end of the day, users just want an app to complete a simple function quickly without crashing.

Creating a simpler, streamlined app requires more time and thoughtful development. That’s why we’re introducing the “simple is better” series—a look at how some of our favorite apps have mastered clean, simple, and functional app design. We find inspiration in breaking down what’s working for others.  

Let’s kick it off with mobile user onboarding. Functional user onboarding comes down to understanding what your customers are trying to accomplish and gathering *only* the most important information you need from them now and down the road. Remember, less is more, as seen with these examples.

1. Headspace: Designing with empathy

Gif borrowed from reallygoodux.io

Adopting a daily practice like meditation can be intimidating for some people. That’s why Headspace took their users’ emotions into consideration when designing their onboarding flow, in addition to standard design elements like color and sequence. They practiced empathy through design.

Rather than telling users about the app, they asked them why they’re using it, which helps them better design a user’s journey down the road.

Headspace takes the opportunity during onboarding to help you customize your own experience by setting notification times, rather than asking you later. As a meditation app, they’re not trying to add to your daily noise.

Once you’re done with the basics, they present you with a plan. I’m assuming they start most people (those who select ‘little’ or ‘no’ meditation experience) with their basic plan and upsell them based on their usage later. That was my experience.

After you’re fully onboard with a ‘plan built for you’, you’re given an opportunity to give it a try.

When I exited out of the meditation rather than starting it, they gave me the opportunity to explore the app further. They tried to keep me there without being pushy or aggressive. The last thing you want from a meditation app is aggression.

We love Headspace’s user onboarding sequence because it’s quick (only a minute!), frictionless, and customized. It’s enjoyable without trying too hard. Rather than relying on incentives, the app relies on your own motivations to use it – your end goal as a user. Read more on Really Good UX.

2. Asana: Prioritizing function with simplicity

The two main functions of Asana are project management and collaboration, which go hand-in-hand, of course. Their no-frills but aesthetically-pleasing onboarding flow gets down to business. With just a few simple steps, you can join your team in managing the projects that matter most to you.

The only place I found some friction was having to check and confirm via email. However, considering that Asana is a place for private company information for some teams, I understand why and it only takes a few seconds.

We like Asana’s onboarding because they get you to work ASAP. There’s no unnecessary bells or whistles. My favorite part is that they found my team simply by using my email address without me having to search for it. Read more on Really Good UX.

3. Duolingo: Collecting only the essentials

Duolingo is a language-learning app beloved by users and praised by business owners for gaining user loyalty through gamification. One way it locks its users in: by getting them started immediately.

Duolingo’s onboarding process doesn’t ask you for much other than what language you want to learn, at what level, and for how long each day.

Once you’ve answered those three basic questions, it starts you off with the first question of level one.

We like Duolingo’s onboarding because you don’t have to sign in via Facebook, type your email, or even provide your name. It’s simple, easy, and fun to get started.

4. Notion: Simplifying a complex product

Notion may very well be the future of online life management and collaboration. It’s an all-in-one workplace for your tasks, notes, wikis, and databases. Although the design is clean and simple, there’s a lot you can do with the product.

If you use all of Notion’s features, it essentially replaces at least five other tools, including spreadsheets. Such a process could be overwhelming for a new user. That’s why Notion started with the basics in their onboarding. They walk users through one step at a time, starting by collecting your basic data.

Then, they ask a few questions to determine how you’ll be using Notion, including the option to make your workspace accessible to team members.

From there, they share a few basic but helpful tips using gifs and screenshots.

The tips don’t stop there, though. When you get started, the app shows you how to navigate different tasks within your first workplace.

We like Notion’s onboarding sequence because it’s clean and interactive. They make it exciting to get started by providing prompts of the different actions you can take. It’s approachable because the onboarding focuses on the tool’s most basic function: making a list. They’ve incorporated their user guide into their onboarding, making it easier for a user to get started.

In conclusion

One thing the four examples above all have in common is that they put the user and the app’s core function front and center. They stripped away any bells and whistles to focus on the first actions a user needs to take to get up and running.

When you’re developing your app, try to put yourself in your user’s shoes. What’s the most important thing you need to know about them for them to get started? How can you keep your interface as simple as possible while still getting the job done?

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