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SaaS UX Design: Part 1: Nailing Onboarding UX

The initial onboarding process can boost or plummet your SaaS success, as it sets the first impression of the in-app experience for your users. And as they say, the first impression counts, right? It's the most critical stage for them, as it determines whether your product is valuable enough to address their pain points and keep them engaged with your product.

This is why you need to make the onboarding flow as intuitive and clear as possible. Because let's face it: no matter how good your base idea is, if users can't figure out how to use it, they probably won't have the patience to figure it out. In fact, a staggering number of 74% of users turn to other options if the onboarding is too complicated for them.

Therefore, it's crucial to develop a good user onboarding experience that leads to higher user retention rates and a better overall product experience. So, how do you onboard a new client the best way? By taking the time to understand the user needs, pain points, and journey, and creating an onboarding experience accordingly!

In this guide to onboarding UX design, we will explore the key onboarding elements and best practices for building a user onboarding flow that keeps your clients engaged from the moment they dive into your app for the first time!

Benefits of Great Onboarding UX in SaaS

An excellent user onboarding can significantly boost user retention and reduce churn rates. With a clear and concise onboarding flow, users can quickly understand the product's value and how it solves their problems.Moreover, the right onboarding also empowers users with the knowledge they need to use your product effectively. This leads to fewer customer support queries and reduces the time taken to understand the product's how-to's.Ultimately, an outstanding onboarding UX design flow is an essential factor for the success of any SaaS solution. It builds a loyal and satisfied customer base who understand your product and have their needs addressed through it.

Approaches to Onboarding Process: Manual & Self-Service

There are two main types of approaches to onboarding UX: manual client onboarding and self-service client onboarding.

Manual Onboarding

demo request

Klara: An example of Manual Client Onboarding.Manual client onboarding is typically used for large-scale operations, such as hospitals, where the integration process is complex, and the contract size is significant. In such cases, potential clients are usually encouraged to book a demo first before they can access the application. This approach can be suitable for industries that require stringent security measures or have complex integration requirements.

Self-Service Client Onboarding


Expertlead: Forms - a good old pal of every internet user.On the other hand, the self-service onboarding approach is a more common approach used by modern internet companies. It comes under various forms, including registration forms and step-by-step onboarding. It allows clients to register for the application and access it immediately. The primary advantage of adopting such an approach is that potential clients can experience the product firsthand, which increases the likelihood of them becoming customers. In fact, 40% of users prefer self-service over human contact.

Manual Client Onboarding vs. Self-Service Client Onboarding

We recommend that most companies choose the self-service onboarding option, except for those affected by large-scale operations or stringent security measures, such as the public sector. This is because potential clients are often busy people, such as CEOs, CMOs, CPOs, and COOs, who have limited time to evaluate multiple options. Therefore, offering a self-service onboarding option can make a positive impression and increase the likelihood of conversion as they can dive right into your product.To illustrate this point, imagine a potential client in a restaurant who wants to taste the food of three different chefs. If the three plates arrive together, and only one of them has a lid, it will make a poor impression.

Request of your website domain name by G-suite.

G Suite step-by-step onboarding successfully breaks down a complex process into digestible titbit.

Self-Service Types of Onboarding UX Patterns

There is a tremendous variety of different onboarding UX patterns to use for creating a user-friendly onboarding experience. You need to take into consideration what your users' needs are and how your SaaS solution meets them, and choose a pattern or combination of patterns accordingly to create a effective user onboarding when it comes to SaaS UX. Let's take a look at some of the most common onboarding patterns.

Product Tour

Product tour is a popular UX onboarding pattern used by many SaaS products. It offers an interactive step-by-step walkthrough that guides new users through the core features and functionalities of a product. This onboarding technique utilizes a range of user interface patterns such as hotspots, tooltips, modals, and media elements to educate users on how to navigate the software.Although product tour is a widely-used onboarding pattern, it's also quite infamous for its potential to draw ire from users. Some may find it to be intrusive due to preference to explore the product on their own. However, when done right, a product tour can be an excellent tool to seamlessly familiarize your users with your product.The key to making a successful product tour is to design it to be short, straight to the point, and skippable. When users first log in, you can give them the option to take the tour or skip it altogether. By providing this choice, you give users the freedom to decide whether or not they want to participate.If users decide to take the tour, make sure it's quick and easy to follow. Use clear language and visuals to explain the key features of your product, and keep the steps concise.

Annotated Onboarding

Annotated onboarding is commonly used in SaaS UX in order to introduce new users to the core features and functionalities of an application. This pattern is rather non-intrusive, keeping nudges noticeable yet undisruptive or overwhelming.Annotated onboarding works by utilizing various UI patterns like tooltips, hotspots, and other similar UI elements to draw the user's attention to specific areas of the application or suggest a specific action. By pointing out key features and providing helpful tips, users can quickly and easily learn how to navigate the application.


Tooltips are a UX onboarding pattern that involves providing users with contextual information when they hover over or click on an element, also commonly used with other pattern. This onboarding UI pattern is often used to explain the purpose or function of an icon, button, or link, as well as to offer tips or guidance on how to use a product or feature. Tooltips can be text-based or include images, videos, or animations, and can be triggered by different types of user interactions.Hotspots are a type of UX onboarding pattern that are designed to draw a user's attention to specific areas of an app or website. They are often used in conjunction with other onboarding patterns to highlight important features or functionality. A hotspot typically appears as a pulsing or animated circle around a particular UI element, such as a button or menu item. When a user hovers over or clicks on the hotspot, additional information or instructions are displayed, providing guidance on how to use the feature or functionality.However, it's important to note that while annotated onboarding is non-intrusive when designed right, it can be overwhelming and disruptive if there are too many annotations at once. To avoid overwhelming users, it's best to focus on one most important action at a time, and then direct users to the next step once they've taken the first one. This approach not only helps users retain information but also helps prevent frustration and confusion.

Onboarding Checklists

Checklist is a popular UX onboarding pattern used by SaaS products to onboard new users to the product. It provides users with a to-do list of tasks to complete, helping them to familiarize themselves with the product and utilize its features effectively.By breaking down the onboarding flow into a series of tasks, users can tackle one task at a time, which can make them feel less overwhelmed with learning how the product works. This approach can be especially effective for complex products that have a steep learning curve.When designed right, the checklist onboarding pattern can be an engaging and motivating onboarding experience. Users can feel a sense of accomplishment as they complete each task, which can encourage them to continue using the product.However, it's important not to overwhelm users with too many tasks at once. Nobody likes to have a never-ending checklist of 20 tasks to complete! By focusing on the most important tasks, and presenting them in a clear and concise way, users can feel confident and motivated to complete the onboarding process.

Progress Bars

The progress bar is a popular UX onboarding pattern used by SaaS products to keep users engaged and motivated throughout the onboarding procedure. It can take the form of a bar that fills up or a percentage that increases as the user makes progress. It can also indicate how many steps out of the total have been completed.The primary purpose of a progress bar is to let the user know how far they have come in the onboarding process. This feedback is essential as it helps users stay motivated and continue with the process. Progress bars are often used in conjunction with other onboarding patterns, such as product tours, to provide users with an engaging and informative onboarding experience.Progress bars are a great way to encourage and motivate users to complete the onboarding process. As users complete each step, the progress bar gives them a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to keep going. It can be especially motivating to start the progress bar with some progress already made, such as creating an account. This way, users feel like they have already made some progress and are more likely to continue.


Pop-ups are a UX onboarding pattern used by SaaS products to provide users with more information about a feature or action they have just taken. These pop-ups can contain videos, images, or text and typically take up the whole screen, creating a prominent visual display.However, pop-ups can also be annoying and disrupt the user experience if not used correctly. Therefore, it's essential to use them with care and only for what is important. One way to make pop-ups less intrusive is to only use them for important actions or features. This way, users won't feel bombarded with pop-ups and can focus on the most important aspects of the product.Another way to make pop-ups less disruptive is to make sure they're designed to be as helpful as possible. For example, instead of just showing a video or image, make sure to include clear instructions or a call-to-action that encourages the user to take the next step. This will help the user feel like they're getting value from the pop-up and are not just being interrupted.

Self-Selected Segmentation

Self-selected segmentation, also known as contextual onboarding or persona-based onboarding, is an excellent UX onboarding pattern for SaaS products that have multiple use cases and need to fulfill various needs of their users. The onboarding process begins by providing users with a form that asks questions about their position, goals, and needs. This information is then utilized to create a personalized onboarding experience that caters to the user's specific requirements.This personalized onboarding experience creates a smooth and seamless path for the user to follow, ensuring that they are educated and walked through the onboarding experience that is relevant to their use. By providing a personalized experience, users feel that their needs are being taken into consideration, which builds trust and interest in the product.However, it's important to keep in mind that the form should not feel like an interrogation. Users should not feel overwhelmed with questions, and the process should be kept as short as possible. By striking a balance between gathering the necessary information and not overwhelming users with too many questions, self-selected segmentation can be an effective and engaging onboarding pattern for SaaS products.

Nickel Tour

The Nickel Tour is an onboarding pattern that quickly introduces users to the app's main features in a visually engaging way. This pattern is commonly used for mobile app design, but it can be just as effective for SaaS products.The Nickel Tour typically consists of a series of screens that users can swipe through, each with a graphic and a short phrase that introduces a feature of the app. It may also include short tips on getting started with the app.The key to making the Nickel Tour effective is to keep it short and on point. You can imagine a user aggressively tapping through screens that just never seem to want to end, can you? Users don't want to spend too much time going through an onboarding process, so make sure to highlight the most important features and keep the tour to just a few screens. By doing so, you can help users quickly understand how to use your app and get started on the right foot.

User Onboarding UX Best Practices

There are several onboarding best practices that UX designers should follow in order to design successful user onboarding. Here are some best onboarding UX design practices.

Keep It Concise

Brevity is the key to an excellent onboarding flow. The process should be easy to understand and navigate, without overwhelming the new user with too much information. Highlight what matters the most, use clear and concise language, and guide the user through small steps.

Highlight the Benefits

Allowing the user to explore the product during onboarding can increase their understanding of the product and help them discover features that they may not have known about. Interactive tutorials or providing access to product features during onboarding can achieve this.

Use Visual Elements

Images, videos, and animations can be highly effective in helping users understand how the product works by making it easier to digest the information. It also helps keeps them engaged and lets them enjoy pleasant aesthetics.

Personalize Onboarding

Personalization can create a sense of connection between the user and the product. It can be achieved by using the user's name and profile picture and tailoring the onboarding experience to their needs and preferences. User surveys or other methods of gathering data on the user's preferences can be used to achieve this.

Highlight the Benefits

Highlighting the value of your SaaS solution or even just a particular onboarding action throughout the onboarding flow can help them see the value of completing the process. This can motivate them to keep going, as well as increase their interest in your solution.

Offer Mass Import

The mass import feature is a game-changer for SaaS onboarding. Without an easy way to transfer data, clients may become frustrated and abandon the product. Mass import allows users to upload large amounts of data at once, reducing the burden of data transfer and speeding up the onboarding process.

Use Dummy Data

An exemple of an empty dashboard.

Seeing a page like this reminds us of how life can be shallow sometimes.Encountering an application which looks like a barren desert makes everyone anxious and confused, which's why having dummy data is so important to build the trust between you and them.Dummy data is a vital component of a successful onboarding process for SaaS products. It comprises of sample data made up to showcase the product's capabilities. It helps clients feel comfortable and alleviates anxiety by allowing them to explore the product's functionality, without committing notable time and uploading any sensitive data.

The dashboard of Hibob.

Hibob: A filled app can communicate its purpose easier while making the client feel comfortable.

Determining Success of the Onboarding Experience

It's important constantly check how your onboarding user experience is performing and show you can improve the user onboarding experience. To determine the success of your user onboarding process and improve it accordingly, follow these steps:

  1. Define your onboarding goals: Before you start evaluating your onboarding experience, it's important to define your goals. What do you want users to achieve during the onboarding procedure? Are you aiming for a high activation rate, user engagement, or retention? Clearly defining your goals will help you identify the metrics that matter.
  2. Set up a tracking system: Once you have defined your goals, you need to set up a tracking system to measure your onboarding metrics. You can use a combination of analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, Mixpanel, or Amplitude, to track user behavior and measure key metrics like activation rate, time to value, user engagement, and retention
  3. Collect feedback: To get a complete picture of your onboarding experience, you need to collect user feedback. You can use surveys, user interviews, or NPS (Net Promoter Score) to gather feedback from your users. Asking the right questions can help you identify areas where your onboarding experience needs improvement.
  4. Analyze the data: Once you have collected the data, you need to analyze it to understand how users are interacting with your product. Look for patterns and trends in the data that can help you identify areas where users are struggling or dropping off. You can use tools like heatmaps and user recordings to gain deeper insights into user behavior.
  5. Make improvements: Based on your analysis, identify areas where your onboarding experience can be improved. This could be anything from simplifying the signup process to providing better guidance during the first few minutes of product use. Make changes based on your findings and measure the impact of these changes.
  6. Continuously iterate: Improving an onboarding flow is not a one-time process. It's a constant effort. Continuously iterate on your onboarding experience based on feedback and data. Regularly measure your metrics and make changes as necessary to ensure that your onboarding experience is always improving.

By following these steps, you can determine the success of your onboarding experience. Remember that an excellent UX design is a constant process of researching, brainstorming, testing, and developing. You need to continually find ways to improve your SAAS UX to ensure that your users are successfully engaged with your product.


Creating an UX design onboarding flow that effectively guides users to start using your product is crucial as it can significantly boost user retention rates and cut down on churn rates. A clear and concise onboarding flow empowers users with the knowledge they need to use your product effectively, reducing the time taken to understand how to use it. This, in turn, helps users understand and appreciate the value your solution provides, hopefully resulting in their retention.So, how do you onboard a new client? You must first understand your users through research and try the onboarding methods that work best with your SaaS product. The self-service onboarding approach is recommended for SaaS solutions. There are various onboarding patterns available under this approach, which can be used to improve the user experience. When utilizing them, it's important not to overwhelm users and to use engaging and motivating elements, encourage them with the value provided, and make the onboarding process as quick, informative and intuitive as possible.But this doesn't end with creating onboarding process that seems the most effective to you. You also need to constantly look for areas of improvement that can provide more effective onboarding to your users through feedback and metrics. By constantly dedicating yourself to designing an effective UX and user journey, you can make efforts to hook your users right from the first impression!