What’s your users’ first-use journey?
by Matt Fisher, UX Consultant

What’s your users’ first-use journey?

Your users’ first experience of your digital interface is critical to their retention and adoption. It’s well recognised that users frequently uninstall an app soon after installation. 28 per cent of new users uninstall an app on the same day that they install it. That number increases to 70 per cent by day seven*. Let’s consider the root cause of this challenge and unpack three steps you can take to solve it.

What’s wrong with onboarding?

Onboarding flows such as feature promotion, customisation, or instruction are often used to explain a users’ first actions upon using an interface. This presents a hurdle that immediately requires the user to think and take time to overcome. They may, if the option is available, choose to skip onboarding altogether, which still requires them to think and act.

‘If something requires a large investment of time—or looks like it will—it’s less likely to be used’ writes Steve Krug in his infamous book, Don’t Make Me Think.

Stop. Pause. Words we frequently say here at Experience UX. Ask yourself, ‘what’s the first thing I’m asking my user to do?’ Your user is likely to be subconsciously processing two fundamental questions; ‘Can you help me? How can you help me?’ If they can’t answer those questions positively, their journey is likely to end negatively.

Onboarding is a sticky plaster for poor design

Onboarding equals explaining. Explaining equals additional thinking. Research shows that thinking burns calories**.  Calories burnt equals a subconscious feeling of “oh, this is going to take time and effort”, obstacles of life our brains are hardwired to avoid. ‘Though our brains make up only 2 per cent of our body weight, it uses 20 per cent of our energy’ write Ethen Beute and Stephen Pacinelli, the authors of Human-Centred Communication.

If something about your app or website isn’t intuitive and you’ve resorted to explaining; something’s gone wrong, and you must challenge yourself with the question – is this ready to go live?

By creating a space in which users have the unique experience they need to have, we increase the likelihood of maintaining their state of flow. Flow is that feeling when something is effortless, natural, and painless. ‘In normal life, we keep interrupting what we do with doubts and questions; Why am I doing this? Should I perhaps be doing something else?’ writes the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

Break the flow and you lower your chances of adoption. Csikszentmihalyi goes on to write:

Every piece of information we process gets evaluated for its bearing on the self. Does it threaten our goals, does it support them, or is it neutral? … Repeatedly we question the necessity of our actions, and evaluate critically the reasons for carrying them out. But in flow there is no need to reflect, because the action carries us forward as if by magic.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Of course, some specialist or professional interfaces may need elements of onboarding. What’s important for all digital experiences is that your users’ journey (and, indeed every journey!)  should be instantly discernible. It should instantaneously show them how they can use your app, software, or website to complete what task. Thus, answering those fundamental questions; ‘can you help me? How can you help me?’

Krug goes on to write:

The main thing you need to know about instructions is that no one is going to read them—at least not until after repeated attempts at “muddling through” have failed… Your objective should always be to eliminate instructions entirely by making everything self-explanatory, or as close to it as possible. When instructions are absolutely necessary, cut them back to a bare minimum.

Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug

What’s the solution?

It depends. One thing for certain is that your utmost priority for your users’ first engagement with your digital interface is to enable them to maintain a state of flow.

The challenge is that there are no simple answers or one-stop solutions to keep your user in a state of flow. Your users’ flow can only be sought through much research-fuelled thought and consideration.

There are three essential activities to increase your chances of enabling your users to remain in a state of flow:

1. Cast your user research anchor:

Of course, we user researchers will advocate for user research: weekly, we see the risks and rewards of thorough research to understand users’ wants, needs and frustrations. Seek first to understand your users to increase your chances of keeping them in flow. Understand what apps and they use to currently complete a task, identify the highs and lows of those experiences. Look to the extreme pain points and frustrations: the source of your opportunities.

2. Adhere to convention:

‘Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it’ said Anthony D’Angelo. Understand conventions used in competitor apps and tools to ensure your interface matches conventions. Design a conventional interface and your users are more likely to instantly understand how to use it. Spot opportunities to remove friction; to realign and make that wheel go faster. Don’t only look to your direct competitors, but also conventions used in other digital interfaces frequently used by your users.

3. Test, test, and test again:

Based on your research and conventions use prototyping and wireframe concepts to test and iterate your designs early and frequently. Build a picture of your users’ ideal first-use journey and zero in on ease, flow, and task completion time. Identify the user-centred target you are aiming for and in doing so, save time and cash revising your interface later.

Design for synergy

Interactive products should fit the user and not vice versa is the core ethos of human-centred design. Through thought and consideration, iterative testing and learning, challenge yourself with the questions; does my interface suit my user…? Or is my user compensating and burning calories to comprehend my interface?

The last word must go to our friend, Steve:

Making every page or screen self-evident is like having good lighting in a store: it just makes everything seem better.

Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug



Emma Jones

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01202 293652 emmajones@experienceux.co.uk