What is Onboarding? Part Two: User Onboarding

As we previously pointed out, onboarding is an unusual term in that it can be used to describe two similar yet unrelated processes of getting people to adjust to a certain environment. If you’re looking for the intro to employee onboarding – check out What is Onboarding Part One.


In this article, we will introduce different aspects of User Onboarding, touch on Best Practices and overview the different types of user onboarding out there.

onboarding illustration keyboard

Why do we even need User Onboarding?

User onboarding is the process of helping new software users to start using the application in the friendliest, most efficient way imaginable. Let’s break this down to the actions we are asking the user to carry out after they have downloaded/registered to the application:

  1. Complete/confirm registration
  2. Understand what she can do with the application
  3. Understand how she can do those things
  4. Start learning how to use the application


The ultimate, bottom line goal of onboarding is to get the user to start using the application.

The means to this is by getting the user to feel as comfortable and “at home” as possible with the software.

Our tools for carrying this out is by making the user start using the application, so they can feel, in the most hands-on way possible, how easy and manageable it is.


Onboarding in SaaS

Simple applications with simple functionality can be taught swiftly, whereas more complex SaaS systems take weeks, if not months to learn well. Keep in mind that Onboarding ≠ Training. In other words, SaaS Onboarding means getting the user (no further) than to the point where she is actively learning how to use the application. In fact, it would be most accurate to say that successful onboarding leads to learning how to master the software, but they are not one and the same.


SaaS onboarding demands a long term 360 strategy and clever planning in advance. It often involves in-app messaging with targeted notifications and reminders; onboarding emails, with copy-writing meant to lure the user back to the software; creative UX design intended to help the user navigate easily throughout the initial usage steps, and so on.


In the SaaS world, onboarding is very much about getting the user acquainted with the user interface, in some cases using pattern recognition methods, so that she feels at home enough with the software to play around with it, explore and actively learn how to navigate where she needs.


An interesting example for SaaS onboarding is Google Adwords’ new Report Module guide. It is an interactive step-by-step walkthrough that makes you press buttons, select parameters and drag-and-drop report segments to create a basic report. In under two minutes, the guide achieves the following:


  1. You, the user, get a hands-on feel of the interface
  2. You learn the basic inner logic of the reporting system. The How-it-Works
  3. You learn how to perform basic actions which you will later be able to recall through remembering the experience


If you’re interested in reading more about the principles of SaaS onboarding, read the article on SaaS Onboarding through Nuances.


Onboarding in Mobile   

In the realms of Mobile, onboarding relates to an entirely different procedure: getting the user past the initial registration and permissions stage and into the app, past the first time user experience. This approach is rooted in the notion that mobile apps are, by nature, much quicker and easier to master than most SaaS applications. In many cases the onboarding process includes the micro-training process.


UX Archive have a fantastic onboarding archive with loads of fantastic mobile onboarding flows. The strategy for mobile onboarding has to be quick & ruthless (or at least quick), again, because of the nature of Apps Vs. SaaS and the entire mobile experience, which is bite-sized, attention-span-challenged and tremendously distractified. As such, the hooks used to grab users’ attention need to be more creative, visually stimulating and painfully simple.


Here is a lovely example of how Hyperlapse get their users to:

  1. Understand what they should be doing with the app
  2. Agree to allow the app access to the phone’s camera
  3. Possibly, start using the app


hyperlapse mobile onboarding example


hyperlapse mobile onboarding 2

Examples of mobile onboarding done right, courtesy of UX Archive

We recently had the opportunity to work with a major restaurant review platform on a guide for their new mobile site. It’s a good example for an onboarding guide that is not a walkthrough:


We do hands-on onboarding. See for yourself.

Noa is Iridize's Head of Content. With a background in digital strategy planning and database management, Noa translates Iridize's vision, stories and data into words. Digital learning and user experience are a particular passion of hers.