9 key lessons from Samuel Hullick, ‘The Elements of User onboarding’ | UXCam | Blog

9 key lessons from Samuel Hullick, ‘The Elements of User onboarding’

Your product is the mountain that your user needs to climb and you’re the sherpa to show how things are wonderful at the top, remove any roadblocks and get them there. Samuel Hullick, thought leader on user onboarding uses this analogy in his book “The Elements of User Onboarding showing you how to nail down those hurdles and help user become successful. In this post, we will summarize the key learnings from the book: all credits are to Samuel, all mistakes and important omissions are mine.

First step to effective User Onboarding

The first step of building a great user onboarding is understanding what’s works. To do this,  take a successful user  (paying customers, evangelist) and retrace their steps backwards from success. Map out all the touch-points from the first interaction up until them becoming a successful user. Remember making a user successful is not activating a  feature but instead making them successful in lives, the image below visualizes this concept properly. Samuel Hullick User Onboarding

Source: Samuel Hullick book, The Elements of User Onboarding

Now when you look at these touch-points it can be categorized into, getting user to take the first leap of faith step to commit to the product and secondly helping them to be successful. We will start with tips on how to convince user to take the first  leap of faith step and then move to optimizing the process to help them follow through to success repeatedly. Let’s start.

 Key lessons

  1. Envision the improvements comprehensively

Unlike Facebook, Google or Twitter, be comprehensive in articulating how your product will make user lives better. Companies like Twitter and Facebook can afford to have a minimal homepage without much information but for most, explaining comprehensive about the benefits is crucial to help user envision the benefit and in-turn take the first commitment to your product (signup, request demo, etc)

  1. Spark the aha moment as early as possible

Your goal is to envision the improvement for the user and show how your product helps them get there sparking the “aha-moment” as early as possible before they leave. For most products the “aha-moment” unfortunately comes in too late until which users are long gone.

  1. Make an emotional connection through product personality

We as humans make decisions based on emotions and use rational analysis to back the decisions. Having a personality of your product creates emotional connection. MailChimp, Wufoo, Slack are few companies that has done an incredible job. For example, photos of faces on website captures attentions and forms emotional connection and it’s persuasive to influence feelings. Have a personality on not just the homepage but throughout the product.   heatmap-product-app

Emotion connection through product personality

Learn more about building product with emotional connection here.

  1. Help user rationalize their decisions:

After building an emotional connection, help users understand why the decision and commitment to your product that they are about to make, is also a rational decision. To do that, you would show why your product is as good as all other option out there and that it exceeds all other options in specific ways, making it a logical choice. Testimonials, Endorsements from experts, Social media followers, Showcasing real world outcomes such as number of users and being credible and transparent via things like 100% moneyback guarantee, are some of the ways to convince the users.

  1. Watch the flow and clear any halted progress

Assess the Points of Friction for the user, to make sure people are not getting slowed down or interrupted. Captchas, asking for lot of information during sign up are some of the points of frictions. Understand and optimize them.  Asking for email confirmation, slow sites are few ways a user can drift away from the path. Shameless plug, you can use UXCam to see how users are using your app to understand where they are struggling and optimize those experiences. Now that users are motivated and you’ve got them to take the first step to success, you will need to optimize the process to help them follow through to success, repeatedly.

  1. Greet the user

When they come to the site, greet them like you would in a normal life. Since it’s the first time, there wouldn’t be much activity and dashboard might look empty, also called “Blank states”. Handle them gracefully with ultra-sensitive tone without blaming the users for it. Instead of saying “You have no friends”, use this opportunity to ask user to invite them. Lot of companies uses fake content but is not helpful since it illustrates what the product is capable of, which should have been done a while ago. Another way to use is “content-as-tutorial” similar to how Basecamp does, where content doesn’t exist merely to be seen, but to actively instruct.

  1. Give users quick wins

Give wins as early as possible, so users remembers this “peak” experience increasing the likelihood of coming back again for more. It is not getting started with the interface but it’s about getting them to do something that’s a core essence of your offering,  making user a little more successful and invested on your product. Find the shortest path to these “achievements” by  removing any unnecessary steps. Each step is a crack user can fall off of. Also, remember not to mistake activity for achievement. For example “the achievement” is same on Amazon for 1-click purchase or through the normal checkout process. Scrutinize the importance of  onboarding tutorials (wizards, showcases, tours, questionnaires) since while they serve to introduce the product, what the product is about should have been laid out before and the the product should be self-evident.

  1. Keeping the user on track to the successful journey

Maintain presence inside your product and use interpersonal motivators such as smiling faces inside the product too. Another effective way to keep the users on track is by making the journey to success a series of small achievable to-do list or progress. We as humans hate leaving things unfinished and love achieving goals. While designing this touchpoints an important concept to know is what’s called “Endowment effect”, the gist of which is the closer people think they are to completing something, the more likely they are to actually see it through. Linkedin and Quora does a great job leveraging this idea. Once they are successful, acknowledge it, reward it

  1. Repeating the success

Repeated visits where users are seeing results completes a successful onboarding. Social accountability i.e. getting people to connect with others inside your app, the stronger the commitments becomes. Lifecycle email can be used to do things that the site cannot,  nudge people and pull back the user.


You don’t get a second chance for making a great first impression What happens after user lands to your product is the delicate opportunity to make or break a relationship. Every app brings a unique set of challenges. Using the tools and techniques learned above to measure, test and validate onboarding ideas. If you like this summary that has a lot of omission, here is the link to purchase the book. And here is the link to his tear-downs, which is as much informative as it is hilarious. I am in no way affiliated with Samuel Hullick, I just like the guy and his thoughts. When you are ready to test onboarding of your app, sign up for free to UXCam

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