Onboarding Breakdown: Coda.io

This is one of several in an in-progress series focused on new user onboarding in SaaS products. Coda.io is a personal favorite that I use every day, but it’s been a while since I went through the signup and setup process.

While there are tons of A+ experiences within the product, I ended up giving them a C ish for onboarding. HEre’s why:

  • Introducing educational placeholder content and a tour at the same time is too heavy a cognitive load.
  • Taking the user away from the educational placeholder content can cause them to get lost.
  • I recorded this on a wider screen, but that just amplifies the spacial distance between the different tools they are introducing when you land in the product. The insert button specifically felt disconnected from the content.
  • There’s no clear stopping point to either acknowledge that the user has what they need to accomplish their original goal or to turn them loose and explore. My advice is to always ensure a new user can leave feeling like they accomplished something vs feeling like they have another thing to do.

Lessons and Themes

Cognitive load is lower when making your first impression: SaaS product teams must consider the cognitive load and first impressions for new users. The goal should be to allow users to accomplish something meaningful quickly rather than introducing them to everything they *could* do . For example, Slack introduces its features gradually, guiding users to create a channel or send a message first, making the initial experience more manageable.

If you’re going to ask the user a question, use the answer to give them a better experience: When asking new users questions, their answers should be leveraged to make their experience better. Personalizing the onboarding process can increase engagement and satisfaction. Netflix does this well by asking new users about their favorite genres and then customizing recommendations based on their responses.

Confirm the user understands what you’re trying to tell them before introducing something new: Consider using activity milestones to gradually graduate new users to power users. Introduce basic functionalities first and then reveal shortcuts or advanced workflows as users become more comfortable. Duolingo, for example, uses a progression system that unlocks more complex lessons as users master the basics.

IMO good product design makes navigating the product intuitive, minimizing the need to explain : Coda has the left navigation for jumping between pages, and a different screen entirely for navigating docs, workspaces, folders, etc. It’s easy to structure something in a logical way only to find out you made it harder to find in the product. This is probably my top complaint right now with this platform and I’m actively trying to learn the trick or figure out what I’m missing.

5. Making Learning Content Accessible

Providing accessible educational content is always smart: Give users a way to find useful content that meets their preferences for learning and that helps them achieve a specific goal. I was a big fan of their Coda 101 videos.

I’ll probably write more things and you might just want to read those too.

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