Going from zero to 60 can feel exhilarating – but if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can spell disaster. The same is true for first-time app users. Even with traditional interfaces, a clear and intuitive onboarding experience is important. For new interfaces like the Leap Motion Controller, it can be the difference between joy and frustration.

The trick is to build an onramp – a starting experience where users can “speed up” to access the full functionality and interaction set.

Why is this important?

First impressions matter. Every app has a first-time user experience, and these initial interactions can impact our judgment of an app. Users only have a finite amount of time and energy to form an opinion about a new app. If an app seems too difficult, you’ll give up. If it’s too easy, you’ll lose interest.

Successful apps scale upwards. The best game experiences happen when levels increase in difficulty, each time teaching you new interactions (e.g. Monument Valley’s level 1). iPhone apps typically have coach marks or tutorials to swipe through. The lack of first-time support – being greeted by unfamiliar and unexplained options – can destroy a user’s confidence in using an app.

Overcoming creator bias. As a developer, you naturally become an expert in the app you’re creating. The more time you spend on your project, the harder it is to empathize with a new user. This is even more important with motion control, because there’s a learning curve and the possibilities of 3D interaction spaces can be intimidating.

Onboarding the right way

The goal of onboarding is to build trust. Interactions, especially binary ones like toggling a switch, should work successfully at least 99% of the time to make users feel confident. This is a challenge that will be better overtime as people become more familiar with the new input device.

Introduce one interaction at a time. In a previous UX post, we talked about minimizing the number of novel interactions in your app. If you must have more, it’s important to introduce the interactions one at a time,  and providing enough time for the user to try each one. Give the user power and make it ridiculously easy to get started. Over time, the user will become an expert.

Create a safe environment. Give the user space to try out unfamiliar interactions core to your app with a learn-do-learn-do pattern. At the same time, set the expectation that things tried here won’t have any negative repercussions.

Design your onboarding experience with a learn-do-learn-do pattern.

Telekinetic, one of the top-ranked Leap Motion games on Airspace, begins by walking the player through the various interactions one at a time. First, navigation controls are introduced. Next, the user is learns to use their superpowers – grabbing and throwing a box by closing and opening a fist. Finally, the stage is set for enemies to come in. The player is ready to start smashing robots.

Telekinetic has an intuitive onboarding experience that teaches interactions before you fight robots.

Telekinetic could have been designed to introduce the enemies immediately when the game starts, but this would overwhelm the player as they’re trying to learn the core game mechanics. Dropchord, another popular Leap Motion game, has a similar onboarding curve – where the core two-finger interaction is introduced at the main menu selection.

Show, don’t tell. While instructional text can help the user get oriented, showing is always better than telling. For instance, Block54 has a video tutorial with a demo including the user’s hands and the screen. A more interactive approach is Freeform’s interactive tutorial, which contains instructional images laid over the sculpting environment.

User testing! If you feel like your app is ready for primetime, watch someone new use it. Don’t explain anything to your user! The person probably has expectations that you haven’t considered. Take note of these, and ask them why they performed certain interactions that you didn’t expect. Then observe a few other users. After a round of user testing, you should have a good idea where the breakdowns are in your app from a first-time user’s perspective.

What are some other good onboarding practices? Have you ever been inspired or frustrated by an app’s introductory experience?

Image credit: Mawijk via Wikimedia Commons

Nancy is a Leap Motion UX designer. She believes that well-designed digital experiences can make everyone feel like superheroes.