3 mins read

The importance of a seamless product onboarding

Product Lead

Product Lead
Stuart is a seasoned Product Lead at Rawnet. Since joining in 2018, he’s been instrumental in collaborating with diverse clients, crafting bespoke strategies to meet their unique objectives. Stuart and his team excel in taking client challenges, offering expert advice, and developing cross-disciplined growth plans. They lead in-depth research, formulate effective strategies, and meticulously present plans to gain stakeholder buy-in. Stuart takes pride in ensuring clients ask the right questions, fostering alignment among cross-functional teams and partners. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for digital innovation, Stuart continues to drive Rawnet’s success by delivering exceptional solutions that exceed client expectations.

As a Product Strategist, I've used diverse tech stacks for clients in various industries.

However, with this, I have experienced a spectrum of onboarding processes, all wildly different and each leaving a mark on my perception of the tool and how likely I am to use it again in the future. In this article, I will explore the significance of onboarding and its essential role in transitioning first-time users into dedicated advocates. 

But first, what do I mean by onboarding?

Onboarding is a human resources term that UX designers borrowed to make first-time users start using the app. A well-designed onboarding experience increases the likelihood of first-time users becoming full-time users after adopting your product.

Embarking on Software Journeys

Software has become seamlessly woven into the fabric of our lives; whether it’s note-taking, reminders, writing documents, briefing teams, designing apps, leaving feedback, or paying invoices - we find ourselves utilising various applications and platforms to get things done. Despite this, our onboarding experiences for each software are not always a walk in the park. Some are great, providing solutions to immediate needs and promoting productivity effortlessly, But others require a steep learning curve and perseverance to learn how to use the tool, and in some cases, users are left fed up, bouncing away in search of alternative solutions.

Notion: Navigating Complexity

I experienced this recently with Notion. For those unfamiliar with Notion, it’s a productivity app for teams and individuals. It can do anything. And it really can; it’s impressive. But it’s also imposing. I’ve bounced off it three times and only returned to it again and started to make some headway because of colleagues’ recommendations and the community around it who provide tips and examples, thus taking on some of the onboarding burdens from Notion. 

But what if I didn’t have colleagues that pushed it so much? Now Notion is by no means struggling. It has a customer base of 1 million+, and some of the top businesses worldwide use it, including Pixar, Figma, and Amazon, to name just a few. But Notion presents itself as the go-to tool for enterprises AND small teams, individuals and content creators. And it doesn’t do much when onboarding the variety of customers it caters to. My experience was it gave me a variety of templates and pre-populated builds for to-do lists, team spaces, Wikis, project schedules, specifications, personal workspaces and more. 

From my perspective, it was too much all at once, and I feel it could have taken on some of the onboarding burdens away from its community and me by asking a few simple questions. If it wants to be the productivity tool that meets all needs, it should cater for that during the critical onboarding phase.

Asking ‘The Right’ Questions

Notion and many software of its ilk ask for job titles and industries when signing up. Those questions are for marketing and are NOT to help onboard me. What about:

  • What is it you need help with?
  • How can we help right now?

These questions can help determine the onboarding experience and lead to a slow reveal of features. The software I’ve used seems to think onboarding takes place on the opening screen, and then you’re off to the races, but this is rarely the case. Onboarding takes days and months, and it could be argued never ends. For all the tech and UX magic that goes on with the tools we use now, having a more customised approach to onboarding feels like a given and something I haven’t seen implemented yet.

It made me think of video games and how they approach onboarding. Start small, focus on the mechanics and a slow reveal from there.

Now every individual and business is different. Some want all the details all at once, like a jigsaw they put together as they work, and others, like me, prefer it to blend in with my needs organically. Again, it goes back to questions and providing options.


The critical thing with onboarding is to plan for it, bake it into the design process, and provide flexibility based on the customer to fit in with them and their needs. Consider asking the customer and spend less time gathering marketing insights - if onboarding is done right, there will be plenty more opportunities to gather this later.

  • Identify the needs
  • Identify the initial priority

Priority is the key, which is why the slow reveal is so important. You want to be focusing on time to first value (TTFV). This is the time it takes for the customer to reach the task that delivers the most significant value. The recommended question route means you can identify the most significant value to the customer at the very start and not assume everyone is the same.

Your measure of success will be the retention rate (remaining users / initial number of users). This may all sound like a lot, and the danger is over-designing, spending too much time and being late to market. But a more significant danger is losing potential customers at that critical onboarding stage, and they don’t need to try again.

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