Designing effective onboarding for apps

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The what, why and how of onboarding for apps.

Do you still remember your first day of college, where during induction you’re introduced to your faculties, your classroom layout, where the cafeteria is, etc.?

That same process of introducing someone to an unfamiliar environment for the first time is onboarding.


In more technical words, Onboarding is the process of introducing a product, service or feature to its first-time users to increase familiarity and understanding without confusing them.

Now you’d ask, why is onboarding important in apps?

In today’s day and age, where users have access to millions of apps in their devices, onboarding makes a lot of difference in their activation as engaged users.

Value Proposition

A well-designed onboarding explains the value proposition of the app to the users.


In some cases, it can also let the users know how to achieve a specific task in the app.


In some cases, it can also be used to simplify the user journey, leading the user to the core functionality of the app.

So depending on the use case, onboarding can be very helpful to engage the users in the long term.

Now let’s talk about the “how” of onboarding.

Depending on the stage, you want to implement the onboarding in the user journey; there are three types of onboarding models; keeping the core app flow as a yardstick, i.e. Pre, Post and During.

Depending on the use case, their effectiveness might vary.


This type of onboarding activates right after the user opens the app before reaching to the core app flow.

This model works very well for showcasing the value proposition of the app or how a specific in-app feature works.

Most commonly, users see a couple of screens explaining which is presented as a carousel that can be swiped through.


The ease of implementation makes it the most commonly used onboarding model, which you would have seen in a lot of apps. But the same can’t be said for their effectiveness as they are mostly perishable and once the user navigates away from these screens, there are on their own.


This type of onboarding activates post the user has reached the core app flow.

This model works very well for highlighting specific options in the app with a given context; i.e. activating such overlays on particular user actions guiding them through what to do next.

This model is also relatively easy to implement. But due consideration is needed to map out their activation contextually, and a better way of implementation would be highlighting only one option at a time.


This type of onboarding uses progressive disclosure to introduce must required features of the app and handhold the user through the core app flow. Here user learns via doing.

This model works very well with a sophisticated core app flow, which needs a lot of user input.

This model is quite challenging to implement as it needs a separate user journey altogether, and it acts like a mini-app within the app. But when designed and appropriately executed, it’s the most rewarding.

We at saw an improvement of 23% with user activation funnel during a recent A/B test we ran after implementing this model.

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