On-Boarding: Lowering the User Interaction Learning Curve

When Apple updated to iOS 8 it led smartphone users to the “Tips” app which helped people get acquainted with the device’s new features.

If you have recently updated your phone’s software or downloaded a new app you may have seen something like the image above. A unique prompt window welcomes you and introduces the many features available within the new application, highlighting buttons, tools, and ways to interact. The problem is that once you get through all the “next” buttons, this window disappears never to be seen again. Personally, I find myself eagerly skipping through these instructions, saying to myself “Yeah, yeah I got it. I got it. When can I start playing with this thing?!” Then I get to a point where I am asking myself, “wait how do I do that again?” I imagine I am not the only person who has had this experience. This is a problem.

The issue is that this introductory prompt window technique bombards users with information, overwhelming them with instructions on how to navigate their new toy. In this specific instance, Apple is providing instructions on how to use tools that are hidden behind gestures and aren’t anchored in the interface with icons or buttons. Instead of providing formal, introductory tutorials I would suggest another approach; taking a page out of the book of an adventurous plumber named Mario.

The first stage of Mario (left) had simple elements to allow players to become familiar with game interaction. As players progressed through the game, later stages (right) became more complex and challenging.

Mario on NES had a wonderful on-boarding model. Within the game, users have controls to move left, right, duck, jump, and run. The environment has physical obstacles, prizes, and your occasional “bad-guy.” What is so admirable about Mario is that the game introduced players to elements one at a time instead of giving them everything all at once. This 8-bit video game applied a simple, incremental approach to revealing features allowing players to get familiar with a new element of the game before adding more complex elements. This method allows the game to feel easy and fun. It may be hard to believe but sometimes I wish my smartphone felt more like a mid-80’s video game.

Mobile applications would likely have greater success on-boarding users if they started out by just introducing essential elements. This should start by considering the core features of the app. Then reveal them one at a time. Users would be able to get a better grasp on the functions and slowly become more confident. After users have been given enough time to understand the core features, new ones can be revealed incrementally. One feature at a time, at a comfortable pace, could prevent people from getting overwhelmed and ensure users can better interact with designs as intended.


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