Flaws in UX design standards: Tutorial overlays

Lewis Wake
Thursday 14 January 2016

Onboarding is a new territory within UX design that is essentially how efficient it is for a new user to board your product or service. It’s about allowing the user to make an easy entrance.

Recently, users are likely to encounter a tutorial overlay the first time they open a new app on their smart phone. It does what it says on the tin, it literally overlays a tutorial guide over the main interface of the app, usually with some scribbled guides and arrows telling the user the function of each and every button on screen.

Talk about overwhelming
Talk about overwhelming

Why is this a bad idea?

Obvious. Your user will skip this tutorial as soon as they can. They don’t want to have to learn how to use the app. They shouldn’t have to. The user just wants to start using the app. If the user even takes in all the information listed in the tutorial overlay, they’ll likely forget it pretty quickly. Especially if you’re cramming them with all the information at once like the above example. You can’t tell me that you honestly took in all the chalkboard hieroglyphics your teacher scribbled in school.


Not all methods of tutorial overlays are ineffective though. Some apps approach this onboarding technique well. Take for instance, Slack. They simply introduce themselves, focusing on benefits for the user instead of screens and features. True, it is still likely the user won’t read this information, which is probable in any scenario. Most importantly, if the UX design of the app works how it should, then the user won’t have to rely on reading the instruction manual.


One great example of “How Not to Onboard your users”, that I always refer to is Apple Music. Just follow this link and experience the nightmare yourself.

Before designing your coach marks on a semi-transparent overlay, stop and think about what the experience of the first time users should be. Focus on the context. In most of the cases, there is a better way to welcome your users.

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