The Pitch
Studio Graphene's process for user onboarding

How to design an onboarding process that boosts sign ups

First impressions are important. For a digital product, the first impression is your onboarding process. 

Get it wrong, and you prevent users from signing up, meaning they don’t experience the product you’ve spent time building. Get it right, and your users are much less likely to drop off, meaning you can convert them into brand-loyal customers. 

So what have we learned over the years about creating onboarding processes that actually encourage sign ups?

Where to start

Firstly, make sure you understand your product and your intended audience. From here, you’re able to evaluate what is essential at this point. What information is needed? How much do you need to tell your user? What information do you need to get from them?

People don’t like giving away lots of information upfront, so work out the minimum amount of information you need from them at each stage. For example, if all you need is their name and email address, don’t ask for their date of birth. Fewer fields for people to fill in equals fewer barriers to entry.

Once you have these points worked out, you can map out all the different positive or negative paths your users could take. You can also identify potential pain points. 

For example, if you have a date of birth field, does it make sense for it to be presented as a traditional calendar selector? Answer: no! Unless you want your users to have to click back, month by month, for years.

Knowing every possible outcome allows you to get ahead on giving the best experience for any case. 

Know your audience

At this stage, it’s important to consider what you’re designing for. Apps, websites and platforms all need to be approached differently. If you’re designing for desktop, you can put more information on the screen without the user feeling distracted. For mobile, the information must be captured in a way that is specific and concise. 

If it’s an app you’re building, ensure you follow the specific guidelines for iOS or Android to make sure you’re compliant with the digital ecosystem. 

Do your research

Researching your different audiences and how and why they might be using your product is the only real way to know how to design for them. 

For all projects, we start with the following questions:

  • Who are your different audiences?
  • What do you expect from them?
  • Are there different types of users? For example, students and teachers, passengers and drivers, admins and users. 
  • What information do you need to collect and at what stage?

Asking these four questions will generate a wealth of useful information that will allow you to design with your needs and those of your users in mind. 

Test your designs

The best time to start thinking about testing is once your wireframes are completed. From here, you can see all of the screens of your product, giving you a great overview of how a user will navigate through and the many different journeys they could take. 

This provides information on the starting point and lets you visibly see how much information you require as a gateway to different parts of the app. 

At this stage, you can also create a clickable prototype that mimics how the app will eventually look and use this to carry out user research. 

Be transparent with your users

Explain the benefits of collecting different types of information. Collecting more information from users during the sign-up process does generally increase the drop off rate, but if you show the value of your product first, you can decrease this.

For a web-based product, you can show your value much easier as there’s always a website that explains what the product does. This means that when users come to register, they’re interested enough to go through a more lengthy process and give up more information. 

With an app, users usually download based on the app store description and screenshots (and who really reads app store descriptions?) so the job is more difficult. The app has to prove its value to you on the spot, meaning the first screens are extremely valuable. These screens must demonstrate the value of the app, otherwise, that app is getting immediately deleted. 

For example, for an artisan marketplace app we’re currently working on, users can browse products and search for vendors as soon as they download the app. You’re only required to create an account once you want to buy something. 

Another good option is to create a “lite” version of your product that the user can start using without going through a lengthy sign-up process. Then, once you’ve proved the usefulness of your product, you can ask for the rest of the information you need in exchange for access to the full app.

Measure what’s working

Once your product has launched, it’s crucial to be able to measure if your onboarding and sign-up process is working. Even with the most rigorous testing pre-launch, it’s impossible to predict the multitude of ways that people will actually use your product.

Having robust analytics and a rich source of data on how (or if) your users are using your product will let you know if your onboarding process is working or not. 

Our approach would be to first identify every possible point at which a user can drop off. Look at points within your product and throughout the journey users take to get there: 

  • Seeing an ad without clicking on it
  • Bouncing from your site
  • Visiting the app store without downloading
  • Starting to sign up and then abandoning the page

Make sure you have a way of tracking how many users you lose at each of these points. 

Armed with this data, you can make informed decisions about which pain points to address first. Why fix the click-through rate of your ad campaign when you’re losing 90% of people in your sign-up process?

Practical examples

Social networking app

When we launched a social networking app earlier this year, we were closely measuring the drop offs at each stage of the registration process. From this data, we saw that a lot of people were downloading the app but then immediately leaving, without starting the registration process. 

From this, we hypothesised that users wanted to see some of what the app had to offer before filling in a full profile. This made us think about what data we actually needed before users could preview the functionality. We then tweaked the onboarding process accordingly. 


For the Huckletree website, the onboarding process for new Huckletree members is quite long and requires users to give up a lot of information. This is because they need to capture a lot of both personal and business information.

Here, it was fundamental to show why it is valuable for users to give this information. We did this in a number of ways:

  1. We explained the benefits of filling in the form. This included things like being part of the community, booking meeting rooms online and managing your desks and invoices
  2. We divided the information in a structured way to guide the user through the onboarding process, rather than just overloading them with information
  3. We used transitions throughout the sign-up form. Each section feels connected, but the user is only presented with digestible amounts of information at a time
Users are presented with a Huckletree video explaining the benefits of signing up before they are asked to give up any personal information.
We guided users through the sign-up process, showing what stage they were at. As a result, they knew how much more information they were expected to provide.
This screen is displayed at the end of the sign-up process.

The onboarding process really is the unsung hero of user acquisition, so spend some time thinking about it. Keep it as short and informative as possible and use the opportunity to take people on a journey that will make them excited about signing up.

Above all, make sure you measure that journey with robust analytics. You’ll kick yourself later down the road if not.

Jessica Mason

Cast your vote in The People's Choice Award

Want to help your favourite startup get through to The Pitch Final?

Find their pitch video on our leaderboard and show them your support – the video with the most likes on YouTube will get through to the Final

Vote now