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What Are App Onboarding Screens And How to Create One

In this article, we will be discussing what an app onboarding screen is, why it matters, how you can build one, and finally, we will look at some good examples.
Written by
Serra Alban
Published on
February 22, 2023

App onboarding screens can be a make or break situation for many different products. And they can even affect the rest of the user journey even if they have been relatively successful in training and educating users.

In the 2020s, the type of content we come across the most is through our mobile devices. In fact, 70% of all the digital media we consume is, again, via telephones. 

When that's the case, it is only natural that a more advanced user onboarding process for mobile is sought after. Some apps are quite successful in coming up with such an onboarding flow, while others miserably fail.

Let's start with the most important question.

What Is an App Onboarding Screen?

An app onboarding screen is an onboarding app experience that works as an introduction screen for users that need to go through an educative user journey before they can start using a core functionality (and other functionalities). Although such an onboarding experience is designed for first-time users first and foremost, it can be utilized for returning users or for when there is an update to the app features.

Usually, an app onboarding screen looks like a full page covering the entire screen. The onboarding screen features informative steps and preferably a progress bar or other progress indicators. App users are expected to go through 3-4 steps of instructional or educational content with short copy to complete the initial user onboarding flow.

Along the way and throughout the user lifecycle, there might be different pieces of mobile app onboarding journeys to guarantee user retention and user engagement.

Still, app onboarding screens work as the first step to the upcoming user onboarding experiences.

Why is app onboarding so important?

Before mentioning anything else, we can first acknowledge that an app onboarding experience matters for the same reason any other type of onboarding matters.

It provides a friendly and educative first experience for users, it is good for long-term retention, and it consequently means more revenue.

But if we were to inquire about user onboarding's importance for mobile, we would have three main points:

1- Mobile is becoming the norm

Slowly but surely, mobile seems to be getting very close to desktop in many areas.

Especially with the start of the social media era, mobile device usage has boomed, and this is expected to jump to other areas of use as well.

Currently, 60% of all searches on the internet are done on a mobile device, while 80% of all access to social media comes from a mobile device. 

2- Users interact with mobile faster and more radically

There's a good amount of data suggesting that app experiences happen a lot quicker and negative experiences take place even more frequently.

Users are five times more likely to abandon if a website isn't optimized for mobile UX. 

Likewise, 80% of users report deleting an app because they didn't know how to use it. 

When users are this radical about mobile and app experiences, you cannot possibly leave app user onboarding to chance.

3- Mobile is more adaptable to new UX trends

Every day, we develop a new UX/UI trend to make software more friendly.

What we don't realize is that these trends are getting more and more applicable for mobile-only. For example, dark mode, animations, super apps, and many other trends seem to be working best on mobile.

If we also consider the fact that the age spectrum of mobile users is a lot wider than desktop users, this can only be seen as good news for the future of user onboarding while also showing why developing better user onboarding for apps is crucial.

How To Create Onboarding Screens for Mobile Apps

Coding for mobile apps is intricate work, so if you have already created an app, that means you have the capable developers to handle the onboarding flow too.

So, instead of code dumping here, let me talk about some of the best practices you need to consider when creating your mobile app onboarding and the onboarding screens that will be a part of it.

1- Know your app - know your users

Before you start trying to figure out how your onboarding screens should look, what the color scheme should be, how dark the background color would look, or anything of that sort, there is one essential thing to know.

What do you do, and who do you do it for?

Way too many app onboarding screens end up being confusing, heavy on cognitive load, or simply bad. And the lack of consideration of the app itself and its audience is the number one problem almost always.

To avoid this, there is a set of questions you would need to ask yourself before starting off with your user experience design.

  • What industry or category is your app/tool/software active in?
  • What are the age range and demography of your users?
  • What defines your main user persona(s)?
  • What learning material would you have? Is your app's learning curve steep by nature?
  • What is the best way of educating your main user persona(s)? What methods and/or UX patterns would you need to use?

2- Sort out onboarding strategy early

Upon answering the above questions, it would be best to start working on an effective user onboarding strategy.

You may need to consider the type of onboarding you will provide to come up with effective onboarding screens. Your approach to mobile app onboarding could be:

  • Function-oriented onboarding - an app onboarding process that focuses on the app functionality, the core features, and where they are located
  • Benefits-oriented onboarding - an app onboarding process that focuses on the app value, what it can do for the users, and how one achieves its end goal
  • Progressive onboarding - an app onboarding process that focuses on the instant value, learning hands-on, and the app itself

Whatever you may choose, it is possible to come up with app onboarding screens matching the approach. Though the content and the copy might change drastically, this step affects the overall user onboarding experience more than it affects the type of onboarding screens.

3- Define positive user experience for your app

You know your app, you know your user persona, you know your strategy.

What you don't know is how they all come together to create a positive user experience, which is completely natural unless you have tried out a different onboarding approach for the same user persona using the same app.

So, to progress along, you need to consider what a good UX is for your users. A set of questions to ask is:

  • What is the shortest route to your app's value?
  • What onboarding UX patterns would your users prefer/have no problem with?
  • What elements of onboarding would you need? Does your app need a sign-up process, video content, or contextual onboarding?
  • How compact can you make the user flow? Can you get it any shorter/more concise?
  • What defines success in your app onboarding? What are the onboarding milestones, the Aha moment(s), and the first achievement?

4- Map it out

You've got all the ingredients, now's the time for the end product.

When mapping out your onboarding screens and, overall, your onboarding journeys one thing to watch out for is overdoing it.

App onboarding screens need to stay below a certain amount of steps and feature progress bars, always. A well-designed app onboarding screen is rarely more than four steps, and even then, a progress indicator is needed to keep the users engaged.

It goes without saying that the onboarding screens also need to comply with basic usability principles as well as accessibility rules.

5- Put it through testing - Always

Testing is arguably the most important part of the entire app onboarding design phase. And it is naturally so when we know that better and tested UX design could increase conversion rates by 400%.  

Usability testing and A/B testing can do wonders for your app onboarding screens and the entire onboarding experience when you thought you were done.

And the best part is that there are many different ways to perform testing.

You can do guerilla testing if you cannot afford other options, or you can even do email testing.

What matters is that you take a step to enhance your app onboarding screens and your app user journey.

5 Mobile Apps with the Best Onboarding Screens

 There are a lot of great mobile app onboarding screen examples out there, as well as some really bad ones. Here are five really well-designed ones curated for you.

1- Notion

When the Notion app is first installed, users are prompted with a 4-step initial onboarding flow that goes over the essential features of Notion.

The onboarding screen is not only a great example of function-oriented onboarding but also looks great with images and gifs.

It also has short copy and a progress marker, two of the prerequisites of a good app onboarding screen.

2- Pinterest

Pinterest's sign-up flow does a pretty tough thing by reducing the steps to even less, it has three steps. Its greatest strength is its conciseness, so the progress indicator, as well as the progress bar, makes great sense. 

The onboarding screen design itself is a pretty popular style now that Netflix and others use it as well. The style matches the user persona of Pinterest perfectly, and rather than a hassle, it turns into a fun game in and of itself.

3- TikTok

Like Pinterest, TikTok also features an app onboarding screen with user interests to prepare a personalized feed. By doing the sign-up process and the educational flow at one go, TikTok also manages to keep it quite short.

The app has no progress indicators on its onboarding screens; however, it makes up for that by keeping the flow to two (and a half) steps.

With this style of onboarding screens, TikTok is a great example of progressive onboarding.

4- Canva

Contrary to some of the others on the list, Canva's app onboarding screen on our example isn't prompted during the initial onboarding.

The unique overlay pattern comes forth contextually to introduce some features that the user might want to try out on their current project.

Because it is essentially a tooltip, there is not much need for a progress bar. However, it might have been needed in the case that there were more than two features to show. Still, it is a great addition that there is a skip button.

5- Twitter

Twitter's app onboarding screen on our example is also not an initial onboarding screen; it is a new feature announcement onboarding screen and a contextual one too.

Rather than using a step-by-step onboarding screen that takes up the entire screen, Twitter puts everything together in one slideout panel and gives the users the freedom to just click on the "got it" button or slide down the panel.

Because the entire thing is one page with text only, it might appear as though it is a bad onboarding screen example. However, the hierarchy of the text and the addition of the images and icons are so very well-thought that it becomes a good example, though still a unique one.

The best app onboarding screen of them all

It is the one that matches your app, your audience, and your brand voice the best.

None of the examples above that we like so much might not work for you, even if you execute them better. It all depends on the specifics.

So, it is up to you to discover what types of onboarding and onboarding screens work the best for your app. You can refer to the best practices above and check out the rest of the articles on the Academy.


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