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Monthly Dose of Design: Instructional and Onboarding Design

Creating a digital platform to enable new research methodologies is a great way to easily onboard research participants. In this article, Emma and Nicholas provide tips on keeping the process simple and effective through design.

Designing new, creative research methodologies which use different digital research platforms to gain information means you often need a greater design focus vs. when you use traditional research methods. This is because creative, and often gamified, methodologies can be confusing for research participants if it’s not clear how to use them. 

The field of design that brings clarity to how things are used is ‘onboarding design’.  Onboarding design is the design of instructions and giving a simple tour of the experience – in this case, a digital research platform.

The onboarding process is the first point of contact between your digital platform and research participants. It’s an explanation of how the participant should effectively navigate the platform. This is essential because participants need to have a clear understanding of how a digital platform works in order to use it and provide you with quality information. If research participants don’t understand a digital research platform they’re using, they will instantly become disengaged. This affects the quality of the information you elicit and the insights you generate. Onboarding design aims to communicate instructions in a way that’s clear, memorable and understandable. 

Benchmarks for onboarding don’t exist. A bank on-boards people differently to a fashion retailer. This means you cannot use the same onboarding methods for a gamified survey as you can a mobile ethnography diary. 

However, there are four universal onboarding principles you can use to make your onboarding instructions clear, memorable and understandable:

1. Understand Your Participant

At the heart of every well-designed platform and process is a good understanding of the participants who are using it. This is because you need to reflect the type of participant in your onboarding flow. For example, if the primary participants are teenagers, the onboarding process, design and tonality will be completely different compared to if the primary participants are aged 50-65. 

However, some basic instructional design tips apply to all participant audiences:

  • Stay away from any kind of technical, complicated jargon – they’re unlikely to be understood
  • Break up your information in bite-sized chunks for easy reading
  • Categorize instructions
  • Use a design hierarchy – place the most important things to know the beginning

2. Provide Effective, Intuitive Instructions

For some participants, it can be challenging to use a new platform for the first time. Therefore you need to be selective with the amount of information you show participants. Set your instructions to bite-size blocks of content, if possible, the size of a tweet (280 characters). No one wants to be greeted by a wall of text or 10-page document. In fact, most participants are excited to start off without fully reading the instructions. The goal here is to not lose the participant’s interest before even using the platform and maintain a high level of excitement and positivity as they start to use it. 

3. Be Predictable

Research participants are conditioned by the internet and content providers like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Therefore you shouldn’t “reinvent the wheel”. During the onboarding process keep things easy for participants by placing buttons and waypoints in predictable areas. Eg. the “back” button on the left and “next” button on the right, similar to a web browser. The general consistency of where these buttons are placed should be the same throughout both the onboarding process and platform experience. This will make navigation as simple as possible for research participants.

4. Test, Learn and Improve

Even experienced platform designers don’t get onboarding design right on the first time. Each platform you design is different, and you will run into different problems on how to instruct new participants. The only way to understand the effectiveness of your onboarding design is to test it before fully using. The idea of ‘piloting’ may be old-fashioned, but it has an important role in onboarding design. Key areas to assess your onboarding design are:

  • Can participants find their way around the platform?
  • Do participants find the platform interesting to use? 
  • How successfully/unsuccessfully did participants manage to onboard?

However, it isn’t enough to get ‘measures’ in these areas. You will have to obtain feedback in a way which means you can make improvements 

The purpose of using digital platforms for creative research methodologies is to better engage participants and get high-quality information from them. Effective onboarding of research participants is key to this. If onboarding design is clear, memorable and understandable you’ll capture the high-quality information you desire on which to generate your insights.

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