Product Training, Onboarding, Help Documentation & Microlearning

Problems with SaaS Onboarding Guides? You’re Doing it Wrong

There has been a lot of talk about SaaS onboarding walkthroughs lately. Seeing as walkthroughs are a rising star in UI design, everyone in web design and UX has an opinion about them, and rightly so: Facebook, Google and LinkedIn have all added different forms of walkthroughs and tooltips to introduce new features and guide their users through changes in UI. If everyone is jumping off the bridge – well, there must be something awfully appealing in the water.


The big question regarding walkthroughs revolves around principles of design. Onboarding walkthrough critics claim that if UI design is clear and intuitive enough, there is no need for onboarding guides. While there are quite a few arguments contesting the need for walkthroughs, there are very few in their favor.




The Contenders

The most quoted piece contending walkthroughs is the provocative if you see a walkthrough, they blew it by designer Max Rudberg. The thing with this blog post is, that it doesn’t really criticize walkthroughs, rather it rebuffs many apps’ failure to provide Clear UI with visual cues that stimulate users to action.


That said, the articles based on Rudberg’s post provide some substantial arguments against walkthroughs: Sarah Perez claims walkthroughs give the unjustified feeling that mobile apps are complicated, whereas Jeremy Olson argues that the users lack context if they view the walkthrough before the app. He also states walkthroughs may be confused with the actual app and that they annoy impatient users.


Granted, all these critiques are referring primarily to mobile apps, but the assumption is that many of the same design principles apply to webapps, especially with the new and improved flat UI trend.


Bad UX Design Makes for Lousy Everything

Here’s the thing about all aforementioned arguments: they are all true. But they don’t actually criticize walkthroughs as a UI tool, rather they argue against bad walkthroughs. Walkthroughs that come up too early in the onboarding process; guides that are meant to compensate for lazy design; that are misplaced or badly used. That’s kind of like every other feature, design trend and novelty ever developed for web or mobile use: when it is done badly, it sucks. But that doesn’t mean the principle of it is wrong. Just the carrying out of it. “Bad Walkthroughs” does not equal “Walkthroughs are Bad”.


 Does this mean Google “blew it”?


What “Intuitive” Means for Your Smartest Users

Walkthroughs are a tool to help with navigation in the right places. They do not replace good design but are there to support it. No matter how Clear and Intuitive you strive to design your UI, there will always be users who don’t get it, to whose intuition it doesn’t appeal. John Pavlus at MIT Technology Review wrote some wise words about the delta between intuitiveness and familiarity:


If you don’t feel like you have to learn how to use a tool–that you “just get it,” that you “already know,” or “it just works”–then it feels like it’s magically tapping into your ineffable “intuition.” It ain’t. You still have to learn how to use it. It’s just that the more familiar it is (or seems), the less you notice the effort of that learning (or the less effort there will be to begin with). A pen is “intuitive” because you’ve used a zillion pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and stick-shaped inscriptor-tools in your life.


As a long time Android power-user with complete confidence in my technological abilities, I can safely say my mind goes to boot when I am handed a machine that runs iOS. I find myself staring blankly at the screen, trying to Slide and Tap various icons, but they usually don’t do what I assume they would. This happens to more users than you can imagine, all the time: with marginally decipherable new icons, with vaguely familiar symbols and with the frequently-occasional new feature. Needless to say, this is NOT a reaction to poorly designed UI, rather it is derived from the UX baggage a user brings to this FTUE: old, well ingrained habits.


How Do We Create Good Walkthroughs?

The long answer is – it depends on your users. Like everything else in the app world, this needs ongoing testing and response to feedback. In some cases, your users may make better progress with elaborate walkthroughs on every page. In other cases – the occasional helpful guide on fields pointed out as “weak links” by your analytics will hit the spot. Likewise tooltip positioning: some users groups may prefer a prominent, colorful whereas in other cases, an un-invasive, modest tip on a side-bar will do the trick.


The longer answer requires some delving into recent on-boarding and First Time User Experience doctrines:

In a comprehensive article on First Time User Experience theory and methodology, tech journalist and entrepreneur Michael Grothaus expounds on the merits of progressive reduction. The idea is that users at different levels of proficiency require different levels of interaction with your design. Veteran users are familiar enough with the features to get impatient with what they consider information overload.


The easiest way to visualize progressive reduction is by imagining a button that has a shape (say, a rectangle) and inside that button is a text label that describes what the button does, and also an icon representing what the button does. For a first-time user, a clearly defined (rectangle shape) and labeled (text and icon) button is a good thing to see. In progressive reduction, however, once a user has reached a certain stage, the text label is removed from the button, with only the rectangular button’s shape and icon left behind.


Kera (RIP) blogger Taige Zhang presents a graphic depiction of a similar idea – instead of the user learning the app, the app learns the user. The web page has sadly been taken down, but we managed to save a screenshot:



This applies to onboarding guides, as well. Well then, I can hear the iOS designers’ eyebrows going through the roof, if you’re gearing up for progressive reduction, doesn’t that mean you’ve decided to give up on walkthroughs altogether in favor of The Clean and the Minimalistic?


In fact, I have not. Interactive website guidance systems serve a wider purpose than introducing the occasional new feature: as a navigation tool, they appeal to an entire segment of online users. Aaron Travis sheds some light on the different kinds of learners – Global Learners, who take in the overall screen at a glance, and the Sequential Learners, who learn better through step-by-step guides. Your users hail from both types and according to Travis, the percentages are split right down the middle. Per Travis:


Sequential Learners:

  • gain understanding in small sequential, logical steps
  • tend to follow logical stepwise paths while problem solving
  • may not understand material fully but are still able to solve problems and pass tests
  • may know a lot about specific aspects of a subject, but may have trouble relating them to different aspects of same or different subjects

To summarize – for walkthroughs, like most SaaS solutions, much of the effectiveness depends on the application which, in turn, depends on user response. Which is to say – walkthroughs are not some lazy solution for a badly designed UI but a tool addressing the solid learning needs of roughly half of your users.

 Would you like to see good walkthroughs in action?

right this way


How to Make Your Tutorial Stand Out in the Crowd

Many instruction and guidance professionals are faced with the Holy Grail of online marketing questions – how to differentiate yourself in an already flooded, highly competitive marketing environment. Advertising is costly, SEO requires an arguably worthwhile amount of work (unless you employ a fleet of writers). Instructors and Guidance professionals, however, have two advantages over most businesses trying to market themselves online:

  1. Your product is your marketing strategy: instead of having to come up with figures for a fancy infographic or pay a designer for a witty cartoon, in the hope that it will go viral – instructors can just put a taste of their stuff out there and let the search words do the crawling. The trick is, of course, to find a niche that hasn’t been exhausted, where people still look for tutorials. Or else be the early bird on a hot new topic.
  2. Use the most trivial, existing platform: youtube – instead of slaving away on another page for your website or trying to get noticed by prominent opinion-makers’ in your field, create a channel and upload your tutorials onto it.

What makes the popularity of youtube tutorials so fascinating is the fact that you can find a tutorial for any subject that comes to mind, including functions on widely popular websites with their own extensive knowledgebase or FAQ. Tutorial videos on youtube like How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, for instance, have garnered nearly 130K views. Granted, it was posted 4 years ago, but even then LinkedIn was a globally leading professional network with some kind of Help or How To page.

So how come so many users flock to youtube instead of using on-site resources, written by the product pros?

  • Accessibility to the website’s help tools -and this relates to no single website or app in particular- isn’t smooth enough, in terms of UX. After one click too many or upon encountering a complex or elaborate knowledgebase, the user opts for a system s/he is more familiar with and as such, navigates in with more ease.
  • Old habits die hard but live long and prosper – This has less to do with the website’s navigation and more to do with users tending to default to familiar browsing patterns. It is quite possible that many users simply prefer the half-automated open-youtube-search-click routine to treading an unknown terrain on a yet unfamiliar website, in terms of UX. The youtube platform is, again, comfortably familiar, no effort required to navigate a new UI.
  • Content standardization – users have come to depend on peer review, in some cases far more than on professionals. The general assumption is that your peers share your perspective and challenges and that from that POV, someone has provided the perfect guidance solution. By now, most of the top rated and most viewed tutorials on youtube are done by professionals, but the peer review assumption, most likely, prevails.

The best examples I found for good youtube promotion for instructors and guidance professionals are, unsurprisingly, in the realms of excel: A search for “how to VLOOKUP” lead me to this tutorial and from there on it was a short ride to the instructor’s About page and then to his website.

3 in 1: Engage your users, Guide them and get their Feedback.

3 in 1: Engage your users, Guide them and get their Feedback.

Getting started with visualization after getting started with visualization

Getting started with visualization after getting started with visualization

Who Will Guide the Guides?

Back in 2010, Brandon Guerrie at Venture Beat wrote a guide to writing walkthroughs to videogames (are they really still called that?). Not being a gamer, I can’t quite fathom the point of being told how to handle challenges instead of figuring them out yourself -isn’t that the point, though? Or am I missing a major component of this genre of games?- but Guerrie gives some find pointers on the art of guiding guiders. Things like “take your time” and “spell check”, which you would consider trivial but really aren’t.

His  thoughts on the relevance of guides: 

Are guides still needed?

This is a very true statement. I feel modern titles today are much more lenient and straight-forward. Games like Bioshock and Modern Warfare 2 have that destination pointer — in most case scenarios, you know where to go. Harder difficulty settings and online gaming is, for me, more about the actual player learning and gaining skills to improve. But in a sense, I still believe games with puzzles (God of War) and tough bosses (Final Fantasy 13) still needs the shining light with a writer to reach out and help someone. It all depends on the game, I suppose. 

Urban Proficiency Through Clever Design



I absolutely LOVE finding random, middle-of-the-day real-live walkthrus – in real life, that is. This particular sidewalk traffic sign is part of an attempt to educate Jerusalem residents how to board and disembark the relatively new city Light Rail.

It seems trivial, but apparently isn’t: The large, main arrow pointing straight ahead acts as a Yield sign, freeing the way for the people on the train to get off it first, while the people waiting to board are instructed to wait (patiently behind) the lines, along the diagonal arrows.  

The cherry in this design that makes the entire flow work is the promise that lies in little diagonal arrows, saying to the boarders: don’t worry, you WILL board the train, just give it a minute. This addresses the element of anxiety that drives people to push their way into the train-car without waiting for the disembarkation – the fear that they won’t get on the train in time and it will leave without them.

Such a little arrow to soothe such a primal fear.  

This brings to mind Pete Smart’s 19th day UX problem and solution in his 50 Problems in 50 Days project. It’s a good read, so you should.  

Nomenclature – What Do You Call Interactive Guides?

Back in May, Jonathan Anderson at UXMagazine started an important debate on the direction and shaping of the UX profession. This made me realize that the field of walkthrus and site tours is also in its formative days and as such, the terminology to address the thing that shows you other things around websites is, well, half baked at best.


It’s funny, that. Think of web and technology terms that didn’t exist or did but acquired a new context over the past 3 years and yet you wouldn’t question their meaning: Mobile, Social, Tablet. Everyone knows exactly what you mean when you refer to apps, plugins, add-ons, but there is hesitation when it comes to interactive guides, online guides, etc.




Needless to say, this multiple-term conundrum has its consequences where Search and SEO results are concerned. This Babylonian term-jumble will eventually resolve itself and as far as linguistic trends and evolution are concerned – one of the terms will stick. For the time being, I did some research in an attempt to get a clearer picture of the terminology currently in use to describe what we do:


At Iridize, we find that On-Page Guidance is a pretty accurate description of what we do, accentuating the on-page aspect, which, we feel, is what this solution is about – providing the help on the same page the issue is, rather than sending the user to wander in the Realms of Off-Page. But this term is hardly in use, and so not very useful on the marketing front.


The two most common terms to describe this solution seem to be Walkthroughs and Site Tours. It should be noted, though, that in many cases the use of both Walkthrough and Site Tour actually refers to tutorial videos, presentations or screenshots.


Another term in use is Product Tour, used by Google Analytics (or would be, if the tour existed).


Interactive Guides is also a popular choice of term and it usually refers to high end graphic work combined with responsiveness to the user’s actions (mouse-over, clicks). A fine example is Microsoft’s interactive guide to Office 2010 commands.


There are also Introductory Tours, but they are less common, I assume because of the expression’s length.


Do you know of any other terms to define what we do?

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