User onboarding: not just for SaaS any more

Thanks to the good work of Samuel Hulick and the emergence of the UX discipline in the last decade or so we have seen significant energy being spent on onboarding users into apps. So much so that it has become a fully-fledged area of creativity in itself. Samuel’s tear-downs have become the benchmark for good experiences (and the scourge of bad) and in the SaaS space in particular they are in their own way the Oscars of the SaaS onboarding space.

One extremely popular route is to create step by step guides to walk a new user through a product. This is effectively what Samuel uses himself but on screenshots and not on live websites or applications as you can see from this recent example of Periscope.

Samuel uses them in a creative way, mixing in amusing images with the informal but helpful copy. What is most telling I think though is how effective this step through is in directing and highlighting what he feels you need to know about onboarding process of a product or service.

Going beyone SaaS apps and into the world of web

At the risk of getting a bit meta, Samuel also uses his pointer system to look at the pointer systems within the applications. We start to see pointers pointing at pointers - which in any case shows the efficacy of directing a user through the process.

So we have a whole industry being developed based on the most efficient way to move a user through a journey. And we have the doyen of that movement also using steps/pointers/walkthroughs/guides (call them what you will) to highlight good practice. What is a little surprising then is that we do not see more widespread use of these techniques in other online user experiences.

I say strange because the psychology of the experience is extremely similar for the user. The service provider and the user want to mutually achieve some shared goal which often requires a number of steps to get there.

For instance Samuel is a fan of progress bars:
Guess what so are we:

Giving people the assurance of how many steps or stages there are to go through, even if it is quite a few, is again a huge psychological advantage as everyone like to know when a journey will end. Using a guide like those Nickelled creates is a very easy way to implement this.

Create guides for almost any online experience

To talk about Nickelled for a second just for clarification, we have the concepts of an embedded and a standalone guide. Embedded guides are ideal for creating in-app experiences where the user is behind a login. But we also have standalone guides where we create a replica of a site and move the user through it. This allows all or much of the best practice that is being generated in the user onboarding experience to be implemented by anyone who has responsibility for an online experience where a user needs to achieve a goal. And if you want to discover where to find that best practive well there is no better site than Samuel's onboarding teardowns.

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