Key Concepts for the Interaction Designer: Onboarding

Editor’s Note: This article focuses on current interactive terms like those found in James Pannafino’s book: Interdisciplinary Interaction Design: A Visual Guide to Basic Theories, Models and Ideas for Thinking and Designing for Interactive Web Design and Digital Device Experiences.

Interactive design is about more than technology. It involves how we deal with user-centric design problems. However, traditional design principles don’t always align in context with this new type of design thinking.

Key Concepts for the Multidisciplinary Interaction Designer

More and more, the core principles of interactive design are best fostered in an interdisciplinary approach. Each month James Pannafino and HOW Design will expose you to new, key terms or processes that create a new language to apply to your interactive design and way of thinking.

What is Onboarding?

Onboarding is an initiation process to help integrate a new user to a system or organization after they have signed up or have become a member. Onboarding covers key features to the system so that the new user can acquire the knowledge and skills to preform an action or task. Onboarding experiences can range from digital (desktop and mobile) interactions to social organization initiatives like new employee training or initiation sessions. Many times onboarding is started at the beginning of the experience and limited to a short amount of time to keep the users attention.

Interpersonal Onboarding

Interpersonal Onboarding; interaction designer

Often businesses will use onboarding to integrate new employees into a company more effectively. Onboarding techniques may involve technical training, socialization sessions and formal orientations. If organizational onboarding is successful, new employees will function better in social interactions and have higher job satisfaction.

Digital Onboarding

Introducing Paper from Facebook on Vimeo.

Digital onboarding uses various techniques to help the user understand the app or system they have just signed up for. Digital onboarding techniques can vary from a tutorial, product tour/walkthrough, call outs/tips and step by step video or video narrative (see above Facebook Paper app example). Techniques are easily used alone and can be mixed and matched as needed. Similar to interpersonal onboarding, digital onboarding success can be measured by how fluid the digital experience is for the user and how satisfied the user is with the application.



Digital Onboarding 1; interaction designer

Similar to print magazines call outs and tips are visual hints (arrows and short text snippets) on the display that show and tell the user what a function does. A good practice is to only show a few tips at a time and use sequencing to show more tips later in the process.



Digital Onboarding 2; interaction designer

Tutorials can vary from self guided static images (ie. dropbox example above) that tell a story to interactive videos with audio . It is good practice to keep statements somewhat brief, give user control (clear buttons or player) when possible and use overlay or pop up menus so the user can see the application in context.

If you have a interactive concept you like to have explained, please email suggestions to jpannafino[at]

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