Onboarding Skip it When Possible

We need to train our users better. That’s probably one of my least favorite phrases in tech system. Training, onboarding and instructional content are often just bandages trying to solve a greater problem. Poor design. And I say often because system help and documentation can be helpful for specialized domains and expert users. But in this lesson, I want to focus on mobile apps and onboarding. There are a ton of apps out there and honestly, most of them don’t need onboarding. Generally speaking, onboarding is problematic for a few reasons. First off, onboarding increases the interaction cost because these flows require user attention and effort.

Even if users decide to skip your onboarding, they still have to interact with it to do so. And that increases the interaction cost of completing a task in your application. Second, when onboarding asks users to remember certain interactions or where information is located, it’s taxing their memory and distracts from the core tasks. Finally, on boarding might not improve user performance. The drawbacks are clear, but the benefits are on boarding are less so. In general, we recommend against creating instructional onboarding flows for simple mobile apps. Users will always need time to learn a new app, but that doesn’t mean apps need specific onboarding flows or lengthy explanations. That said, there are a couple of cases where on boarding screens can be useful in mobile apps like you need user information to get started. The app is highly tailored to the user’s context and preferences, or the app workflows are unique and unfamiliar. If you’re unsure whether your app needs onboarding, test it without it and see if the participants face difficulties using the app for the first time if they do have some trouble.

Try making changes to the app to make it more learnable and if that’s not possible, prototype and onboarding flow and test it out whenever possible. Spend your resources making the design better, not pairing it with an instruction manual.

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