#best practices

5 min

Onboarding in the Mobile App: How, When, and Where

Figuring out the best cases and practices of mobile app onboarding

Katrin Shabina

Chief Design Officer

Eva Petritski

Content Manager

October 10, 2022

Onboarding flow is a way to introduce users to a product. It’s the first thing they see when starting a new application or updating an old one. Onboarding gives prompts on how to work with the new interface and helps tailor the app’s functions to users’ preferences.

While serving a clear and relevant purpose, onboarding still triggers varying opinions about the need for it in a digital service. Grubhub CMO Casey Winters believes that onboarding helps users understand the product value and engages them in a long-term interaction. Norman Nielsen Group thinks the opposite—they root for giving it up and focusing on creating a sleek interface without any extra explanations.

“Onboarding should be concise and attractive. Cover the key features as explicitly as possible. Use succinct wording, and bright illustrations to catch the reader’s eye.

Instructional onboarding works better when it is targeted and displayed directly in the interface, after the user has checked it out.”


Chief Design Officer at HeyInnovations

In this article, we will try to figure out the cases where onboarding can actually be of service, and the cases where it would only irritate your users.

Three reasons to leave onboarding out

#1. It increases the cost of interaction. Onboarding requires the user’s attention and effort. Even the option to skip counts as an extra action.

#2. It causes an unnecessary bother. Onboarding helps the user remember the meaning of interface elements. But app developers must not forget that people use apps to complete their tasks, not to cram the interface content.

#3. Sometimes it’s just useless. A study by Norman Nielsen Group showed that users who passed onboarding performed tasks just as successfully as the ones who skipped it.

Four cases when onboarding is a must

#1. You need user information. Take any FinTech app, for example. In order to conduct transactions, it needs to receive user information, including full name, date of birth, email, and credentials—all during one onboarding flow.

#2. App functionality depends on the user’s preferences. If you want your app to have a good recommendation system, ask your users about their preferences when they first sign up. Creating a personalized feed would be impossible without a good onboarding in the beginning, just like in Pinterest.

#3. Your app has unique functions, or a complex set of tools that can be better mastered after a short and sweet overview. Adobe Fresco, for instance, shows the newcomers how to use its main instruments in order to create professional digital artwork—just a couple of seconds—and they are good to go!

#4. An overall application update. If you changed the application interface or added some new features, don’t forget to show your users around. Application updates, if introduced suddenly and with no onboarding, can disturb the users’ usual workflow and put them off from using the redesigned version of your app.

Types of onboarding flows

Onboarding is a very intricate thing that requires a calculated and balanced approach, as it can both attract and scare potential users away. When done masterfully, it helps habituate users to your app and create a solid audience for your product.

A wrong onboarding can overwhelm users and leave them under the impression that your app is too complicated to use. For example, lengthy deck-of-cards tutorials with cumbersome explanations of each and every app feature. Or an unwarranted video tutorial that will cause users to close the app and never open it again.

Each app is different, and depending on the situation, it will require a unique onboarding flow. Luckily, there are many types of good onboarding strategies you can choose from to boost your app and land more users. Let us walk you through each case and show how and where it should be used.

1. Deck-of-cards tutorial

A deck-of-cards tutorial is a quick recap for those who skipped the app description in the store. Such onboarding introduces the product and gives a quick overview of how to use its main functionalities. Through the deck-of-cards presentation, the app shows off its strengths and motivates the user to stay.

An optimal deck-of-cards comprises 3–5 slides and covers the key or unique features of the app, at the same time allowing advanced users to proceed to the app without onboarding. Take a look at TickTick, for example. They created an unobtrusive and clear onboarding that presents the app and does not overwhelm users.

The onboarding in the PayPal app introduces the main features of the service and tops off the description with intuitive bright illustrations.

2. Personalization

Personalization is a process of collecting and processing user information. This type of onboarding is necessary when you want to get the initial data about the customer and adapt your app to their needs. For example, a fitness app will recommend more relevant workouts if the user specifies their goal, body measurements, and lifestyle.

Personalization should be brief, include only those questions that will be essential for meeting the customer’s needs, and explain why the app needs this data and how it will handle the received information.

Let’s take a look at the Motify fitness app. We built an onboarding system, which finds out the desired result, sports training, and favorite activities of the user in order to come up with the most effective training program.

The application for the perfume and cosmetics subscription service Scentbird learns the user’s tastes and preferences while onboarding so that it could offer them a customized selection of scents and beauty products.

3. Contextual help

Contextual help are graphical interface elements that tell new users about the app’s functions. They pop up when the user enters a section and tries to figure out how to perform a task there.

Contextual help should highlight the most important or non-obvious functions so that the user doesn’t waste their time trying to figure everything out on their own. In the onboarding of the OhMyMilk application, we created a unique filter icon, so we added a contextual help that appears when the user first comes here.

4. Updates

Onboarding can tell users about the recent updates that have appeared in the application. It helps users find their way around the interface after the redesign. Such onboarding shows you the new location of the most used functions, and introduces the cool new features that might come in handy.

For example, YouTube introduces its updates with the help of small contextual hints, and DoorDash displays a curtain with a description of the new functionalities.

5. Interactive walkthrough

An interactive walkthrough is a type of onboarding where the user performs small tasks, and the app guides them with hints. Such onboarding helps the user explore the app in practice. Users are more willing to take walkthroughs as the gamification component in them makes the learning process more interesting, compared with following plain hints in the interface.

The onboarding of the Notion app gives an interactive walkthrough of the interface and shows users how to complete tasks using the tools of the service.

The Lake app has created an interactive walkthrough that teaches users how to work in the application by leading them through a set of small practical tasks, followed by encouraging feedback.

Good onboarding practices

Don’t take too long with the training. A long onboarding process will annoy the user and create the impression that your digital service is too complex.

Let users skip onboarding. Advanced users want to immerse themselves in the product on their own, so allow them to bypass the hints.

Use context. The user will better memorize the hints that appear along the way.

Fill in the start pages and empty states. You can talk about what to do next on the empty pages.

Do not hurry to ask to register or get a paid subscription. First, you need to show the user your product in action, and only then inform them about the perks of a registration and a paid account.

Here at HeyInnovations, we always proceed from the specifics of projects and use onboarding only where it benefits customers and advances the product. Tell us about your task, and we will develop an intuitive service paired with an interactive onboarding flow where it’s actually needed.

Read more

Subscribe to
our newsletter

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

By subscribing you agree with our Privacy Policy

©2024 HeyInnovations

Privacy policy

First Central Tower, 360 Central Avenue, Suite 800 St. Petersburg, Florida 33701