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AUG 5, 20145 MIN

Elements of User Onboarding’s Samuel Hulick

Dana Oshiro's Headshot

Dana Oshiro

General Partner, Heavybit

Portland-based UX guru Samuel Hulick is best known as the author of The Elements of User Onboarding and the creator of UserOnboard.com— a site that offers UX teardowns of some of the web’s most popular services. Heavybit caught up with Hulick to interview him on how SaaS companies can improve their onboarding design:

HEAVYBIT: How do you best convey the value proposition for developer-facing products and services?

SAMUEL HULICK: You have to answer the question as to how you make the customer better. You know in Super Mario where there’s the fire ball throwing version and the regular version? You need to talk about how your product makes me the fireball throwing Super Mario, rather than talking about the aspects of the fire flower you’re trying to sell me. Other things you need to incorporate include proving how the product works in reality and showing how you’re credibly solving the frustrations of the user. It’s best to try to paint a picture of what life would be like if someone used your product. POP, for instance shows how you can prototype applications by wireframing them on paper and then turning them into an app. People in the field are also always a good way to prove credibility to solve the problem. So number of customers, hours saved per customer, press and testimonials are all good examples of that.

Elements of User Onboarding’s Samuel Hulick

HEAVYBIT: What are some ways to convey a clear path to completion for the user?

SAMUEL HULICK: There are a couple ways you can do this. There’s always progress meters that tell you how far along you are in a process or to-do lists that list off all of the remaining tasks. But there are also slightly more subtle paths to completion. For example, you can make use of blank states. In Basecamp, you might not have any projects but the site pre-populates a few fake ones so that you’ll know where the projects will be and how they’ll look. Alot of sites will pre-populate what a contact might look like as well. It’s all good practice to put the user into context. One other thing that sites might forget is to celebrate the user’s success state. When users finish the task of onboarding, it’s important to be there with a positive reinforcement.

HEAVYBIT: What key points of user education do you recommend building into a dev-facing product in its MVP and early stages?

SAMUEL HULICK: Don’t try to fix a broken interface by overlaying yet another interface on top of it. Focus on better design rather than wasting time with tools or coach marks. Rather than pointing the problem areas out, fix them. The best way to do that is to spend time with the customer, especially in the early days. Get them on live chat or do concierge onboarding (personally assisting with their setup process). Then, as you know more and more, you can scale that out with interface changes. Don’t tack notes on an interface and call it a day — try to be as present with the user as possible.

HEAVYBIT: Name your 3 favorite Useronboarding.com profiles and why they’re your favorites?

Basecamp: Again, they’d done a phenomenal job of filling in the blank space, demo projects, etc. — the interface uses itself to introduce itself.
Slack: They’ve got a novel way of red-carpeting core features via Slackbot (chat bot) and as a result, they get you introduced to features quickly.
Shopify: I like some of Shopify’s overall attentiveness to UX details. They also had really good success state.

HEAVYBIT: What are a couple things you think every dev-facing company should bake directly into their on boarding experience from day one?

SAMUEL HULICK: I can name two. I think live chat is a great way to get users engaged and to pinpoint UX problems. I also think in the early days, it’s important to line up screen shares with the end user so you can see what’s happening first hand. Being present in the process during those first five minutes is so crucial to figuring out a UX that unlocks growth.

HEAVYBIT: If everyone is reading you, who are you reading?

SAMUEL HULICK: I’m reading Jobs to be DoneRyan Singer of 37 SignalsSteve Blank, and Josh Elman of Greylock (formerly FB and Twitter). There’s a great talk from Elman’s Grow Conference Talk here. I also like to revisit Patrick McKenzie’s work as a source of inspiration.

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