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Helping new users become power users

Improving ReviewNinja’s user onboarding

On the ReviewNinja team, we’re constantly seeking user feedback and iteratively improving our web-based code review tool. One item on our agenda for a while has been to radically overhaul our approach to user onboarding. It’s an area of expertise we want to develop as a team and use for all the products we design.

Adding a first-run experience

Our inspiration comes from Samuel Hulick’s work at User Onboarding. He advocates for a systematic approach to increasing the likelihood that new users will be successful when adopting a new product. Many great products like Slack, Basecamp, and Trello invest a lot of design and development effort into first-run experiences and user onboarding. They recognize that helping users get to an “aha! moment” when first using the tool greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll adopt it.

User research & analytics

Before you can help guide a first-time user to an aha! moment, you have to know what they are. Research and usage analytics will tell you which actions more frequently translate to adoption and regular use. We identified these for ReviewNinja, and designed a first-run experience to guide new users through a flow that will introduce them to those actions in an engaging and streamlined way. I’m going to focus on the after sign-up flow here, but marketing and the sign-up process itself are critical to the end-to-end experience for a first-time user.

The content is the tutorial

Step one in the first-run experience for ReviewNinja is to guide new users to add a GitHub repository. One of the key principles we’ve followed is the content is the tutorial, meaning the tool introduces itself using key features and actions. It’s important to welcome new users in a helpful and relevant way, so ReviewNinja presents an option for guidance using the core content of the tool itself: a welcome repository.


Make it meaningful

Once a new user clicks to add the welcome repository it’s added to the user’s list in exactly the same way as any other repository. By making “content the tutorial” users are interacting with the tool itself while completing meaningful activities.


Provide quick wins

Clicking on the repository name brings the user to the repository detail screen. The welcome repository title prompts a suggested next step (using the tool to teach the tool). At this stage we introduce a dismissible “to-do” list showing which key actions a user has completed.


Reward success

The welcome repository has an open pull request with a file (standard file in any GitHub repository) with suggestions on what to do next.  As a new user completes tasks, the to-do list is checked off.


Be helpful!

If at any time a user is unclear how to perform an action, he or she can hover over it and an animation will guide them.


No floating in limbo!

Once all key actions have been completed, it’s really important to communicate success. It’s also critical not to leave users in limbo, so we’ve provided a prompt to let a new user know what would be the most useful next step to take after completing the first-run experience.


In short…

A first-run experience is a small but critical part of the overall user experience. It creates a great first impression, and significantly increases the likelihood that new users will be successful when adopting a product.

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