In the first part of this series here I explained a little about what gamification in apps is and how to use it during the user onboarding process. In this post we're gonna look at what happens after you get a user into your app for the first time. This is still part of onboarding, what happens next is you need to get your users up to speed on how to effectivly use your app.
“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
― Albert Einstein
There are many different aproaches that app makers have tried and many do a decent enough job. Few however do a great job. There are some ways that are common that tend to just be bad ideas and a waste of your development budget. Do not force the user to watch a long video or tap through a long set of information slides upon successful signup/first time login. This is a very very common practice and it’s not the best way to go about explaining your app. But it is fairly easy and that’s why you see it all over the place.
Take a lesson from video games
So how can you do it better? Look at how video games teach users. Many video games nowadays have quite complex control systems. A playstation controller has something like 17 buttons and two joysticks on it (which are also buttons, L3 & R3.) In addition to the buttons the games have multiple screens of user infaces with a slew of options and configurations all mixed in with some sort of plot. Imagine how terrible the experience would be if a game started up, summarized the option screens and told you all the buttons and their combinations with a series of slides and then just set you loose into the game expecting that you got it all and are now a proficient user. That’s a terrible user experience and creates negative emotions that disappoint the user and that’s exactly what most app out there do.
So how do you give a tutorial in a more user friendly way? In short, allow user to explore naturally and reward them for doing so. If your first screen has 4 buttons on it don’t explain them all sequentially. Instead encourage the user to explore the app. When they tap on a button you can show a tool tip that explains what is about to happen and give them the option to cancel. They learn as they go. If you have some features that are somewhat hidden, like swipe gestures, wait until most of the primary buttons have been explored before giving them a hint about the swipes or whatever hidden feature. Usually this means your developers will have to architect some sort of onboarding system to keep track of what the user has explored and what they need to be hinted about but this is just a fairly straightforward matter of record keeping.
To play around with good example of smooth onboarding try out the Tinder app. It’s a dating app sure but it’s ok if you’re happily married to just create an account for the afternoon to see the mechanics of the interactions and onboarding. Do it with you’re significant-other for a laugh or two.
You probably won’t get your onboarding and firstime user tutorial perfect the first time you implement one. That’s ok, that;s expected. Build it and hand it to the oldest person you know, watch them sign on and get aquianted. Then hand it to a 5 year old and watch them do the same. Then a teenager. I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or three. Each time you’ll see where you can make the interaction smoother or clearer. Watch for signs that they’re getting board or confused. Make notes and then tweaks.
It's all about timing
Timely delivery of hints or tips is a huge component of drawing users in and teaching them about your app. If you provide hints/tips in a timely manner, not too fast and not too slow, you can walk the fine line between curiosity and frustration. The timing itself is an art and differs from app to app but a good rule of thumb is that if it takes the user more than 5 seconds to figure out how to do something on a screen they've never seen before, you should highlight the action they should take, or make it wiggle or grow or at very least pop up text. Anything longer than 5 seconds starts to encroach into the land of frustration and disappointment. Each tip should be quick to read too. This is part of timing, you don't want the user to TLDR your tip to them. (TLDR = too long, didn't read) Short "bites" of information are all the user will be willing to read from you.
With a gracefull mix of allowing users to tap around your app without fear of screwing something up (this is why tips should have cancel buttons) and timley nudges in the right direction for users who are lost, you can create a tutorial experience that is so natural feeling to the user that they don't even realize that they we're taken though it. Good video games do the same, you start of not being able to run your character around a dumpster and before you know it you're controling your character as they drive stolen vehicles at break neck speeds through city strees while aming an shooting a submachine gun out the window. Good tutorials make even the most complicated tasks feel like second nature.