When I go through a first-time UX that makes me want to quit or return a product, I immediately remember a childhood memory:
I’m 13, and my parents decide to move.
Meaning: I have to change schools, and to my surprise (and utter terror), I have to commute a whole 1.5 hours every morning and take the same road back home every day.
That’s 3 hours of my day spent not so well, mind you.
Needless to say, I HATED it.
But I was just a 13-year-old, and I couldn’t really be like, “I don’t like my first-time UX here, bye” one day and change schools again 😅
So I decided never to take switching a product or experience for a better one for granted.
Here’s the thing, though, your users might not think the same.
And so, today we are talking about:
- What a first-time user experience (FTUE) is,
- Why FTUE is so important for your business,
- How you can increase your FTUE performance immediately, and
- Some good examples of FTUE
Don’t have the time? Here’s a quick summary for you:
- First-time user experience (FTUE) or new user experience is the onboarding UX and the overall UX new users go through in a given product.
- While the meaning of FTUE enters the realms of onboarding users and the experience with interaction design, it can actually start way earlier during the registration stage or the download phase.
- There are 3 main reasons why FTUE is essential:
- Higher activation & conversion rates
- Better word-of-mouth
- Higher retention rates
- 5 best practices to give your FTUE a head-start:
- Easy download & signup,
- Warm welcome & relaxed product tours with no pushing,
- Don’t push creativity in the wrong places,
- Use checklists, progress and time indicators,
- Collect feedback at the first touch point
- 3 good examples of first-time user experience and new user experience:
- Notion with progressive & clean UI,
- Slack with few but informative touchpoints,
- ClickUp with checkpoints and organized UI
Let’s get to it right away with our first topic:
What is First-Time User Experience (FTUE)?
First-time user experience (FTUE) or new user experience, is the onboarding and overall experience of your new users using your product for the first time. Simply put, FTUE is the feelings and ideas evoked in your users as a result of their first touch with your app. From what they see to what they read or what they use on your product, different elements of your first-time user experience affect your long-term retention rates and user journey.
So no, we are not talking about Overwatch 2 and its first-time user experience (FTUE) today, even though I am all in for a better onboarding process in video games 🎮
FTUE’s meaning is often easily established, but not everything is clear-cut.
It is way harder to draw the line between where it starts and takes place in the user interfaces, its effects on visual design and the overall design process, as well as implications on user expectations and the customer journey that the user experience is a part of.
It is often accepted that first-time user experience starts with the moment that users begin to use the features of your digital product.
However, contrary to this commonly accepted definition, some (including me) believe that the first-time user experience starts once users try to register to your app.
For example, even a simple filled form field like in Monday.com’s sign-up can be the difference between a good app experience and user friction:
Meanwhile, ClickUp says, “I’ll do you one better” to Monday.com by putting the form field for sign-up directly on the main page.
You can clearly see the difference in user experience even in the registration stage 🤷
I would even go as far as to say that, in some cases, it starts when users try to download your app.
In any case, one thing is for sure:
The harder it is for users to get to your app and start with their product experience inside, the more prejudice they will have toward your app.
In such cases, users will run out of patience either after they struggle to download and register or their subsequent struggle to use a feature of your product.
Now, all this makes it obvious why first-time user experience matters.
But there are even better reasons for you to start optimizing your digital experience for your potential users and customers:
Why is the first-time experience of a new user important?
Here’s a quote to live by:
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.Will Rogers
As we discussed above, the first-time user experience is crucial mainly because it is one of the most important factors in users’ decision to use a product or not.
In fact, if your potential user doesn’t fully need your solution, it can be the sole reason why they choose to buy or not.
But hey, let’s talk about why FTUE matters in detail.
Here are 3 main reasons why you need to start paying more attention to your FTUE:
1- Higher activation and conversion rates
As we’ve discussed already, your potential users interacting with registration, scheduling a demo or using a freemium account all count as first-time experiences of new users/potential buyers.
That means you have to deliver positive experiences for them to even register, schedule that demo, or sign-up for freemium or trial.
These can all be considered steps into conversion, A.K.A. user activation.
That then means that a better initial user experience is strongly intertwined with your conversion funnel and activation rates.
And if you choose not to optimize your FTUE, it directly affects conversion and activation, which then, directly affect user retention.
And user retention is where you draw the line ✍️
So, don’t let a few bad UX decisions affect your product experience OR customer experience
That’s the line between loyal customers and your ideal user personas on paper that never seem to stick around.
2- Better word-of-mouth
Here’s an interesting word-of-mouth stat for you:
13% of your dissatisfied customers will share their bad experiences with 20 people.
But what’s more interesting is:
A satisfied customer will tell only 3 people.
Personally, I could talk about a bad first-time user experience for hours and hours, being already extra aware of what’s good and what’s bad when it comes to UX.
But so can your users.
And the worst part is, they may not even be able to locate what really makes the experience bad or not, which can make word-of-mouth extra cruel.
So, your best bet is not only guaranteeing happy customers but also averting bad experiences for first-time customers to prevent them from becoming unhappy customers.
In short, you just have to perfect your product experience.
I’d get to work right ahead 🧑💻
3- Higher retention rates
And lastly, arguably the most important reasons why you need to be enhancing your first-time user experience:
Higher retention rates.
What exactly does retention rates have to do with FTUE, you might ask. And my answer would be two words:
We tend to remember and dwell on negative emotions and experiences more often and for prolonged time periods compared to any positive emotion or positive experience.
We simply have a more emotional attachment to our bad memories.
That means if your users go through a bad experience, and especially if this experience was their first experience, there is a higher chance that they will inherently be more willing to churn.
They will simply remember you for that one bad experience.
And so, it is essential that you make sure (or at least try to make sure) that your users don’t go through poor experiences.
Because if they do, they will be way less willing to stick around.
If you don’t want to try and correct previous user experiences (mind you, one bad review can only be compensated with 40 good reviews), this is your sign to try and create better experiences from the get-go.
So, then, how do you start enhancing your new user experience?
Let’s take a look at some steps to give you a headstart:
How to Enhance First-Time User Experience in 5 Steps
Here’s what many SaaS products go through before deciding they need better FTUE:
👉 They have a great product with cool core functionalities and product features.
👉 They are using user onboarding software to onboard users with a decent user onboarding experience that could use some user feedback and a few revisions.
👉 They have a good user base for their product, but some users tend to churn each month for no apparent reason.
👉 The conversion rate isn’t too good, the website bounce rate is kinda high, and the activation rate is barely average.
Then they realize that the problem is about the first impression of users and potential customers.
Time to make a difference for them.
And for you.
Here’s a 5 essential steps you need to take to start offering better first-time experiences right away:
1- Make download and signup easier
I said it earlier, and I will say it again, you shouldn’t request too much effort or too much information from your users.
Especially when they are trying to download and register to your app, which is one of the first experiences with your product they will go through.
Your customers’ time is valuable.
And if you have many alternatives in a crowded market, a little bit of friction can often be the end of the line for you with your potential user.
👉 For users to register to your app, you should first ask for the necessary information.
👉 If you require further information, you can request them after their registration.
For example, Asana only asks for an email address when users click on the get started button on their website for further user segmentation to come up later during the process:
2- Always welcome warmly and never insist on a product tour
An important yet overlooked reminder:
Do NOT bombard users with pop-ups with too much information.
Even better, do not bombard users with pop-ups in general.
Users are often overwhelmed by too much information that they face during their first interactions with an app.
But offering too little information can be a bad thing as well.
Welcoming users with a brief introduction to your app is one of the best ways to give a good first impression.
Here’s how the ProtonVPN app does it:
Then, you can move on to offering a quick product tour for the interested.
Of course, you actually want everyone to take the tour since you have to be the one to know what your users want (which they might not know themselves most of the time!)
Doing it like Typeform can be a great practice:
The modal is super laidback, has great copy, and even a cool sketch.
And remember, folks, copy with positive reinforcement like “let’s take a tour together” or “wanna explore the app?” are always better than a simple “take the tour.”
Also, don’t forget that not every new user is a first-time user.
Don’t oversimplify it, don’t take user knowledge for granted, and don’t force product tours!
Some good practices for a good product tour on the go:
👉 The more interactive and more hands-on the user onboarding process is, the better,
👉 Videos and visual elements are cool, but interactive content keeps the user onboarding process inside the app more successfully,
👉 Start out by answering the essential questions; details can be given through a contextual onboarding experience with using different elements
3- Don’t push creativity in the wrong places
Distinguishing yourself from competitors with valuable features is among the most crucial aspects of having a successful product in SaaS.
However, for common features and functions that are in the stack of many apps and platforms, designing, naming, or placing elements in clearly unique ways might just work against you.
For example, the home page icon is almost always the same shape and place.
If you use a different icon that might be interpreted otherwise or place it in some random place, it may and WILL backfire.
For example, recently, Reddit tried putting their search button down below on their mobile app, which created confusion for old users.
Eventually, they had to go back to the previous experience of the icon:
Now, although most apps try to put old icons in more accessible places, simply because most users are used to having a search bar above, it just doesn’t work, even when it is a better UX.
Product designers, the ball’s in your court 🎾
4- Use checklists, progress, and time indicators
It is always a good idea to let users know where they are in their journey.
This is an excellent thing to do for 2 reasons:
👉 Helping users manage their time better, and
👉 Making sure that they are not missing out on anything or lost in the process
Firstly, not letting your users know that some steps in the onboarding experience take longer to finish than others can agitate them and end up in user frustration or worse.
Believe me, you would not like it.
And secondly, given that contextual onboarding is the best practice of all, not letting users know of the essential features and their locations in a checklist might lead them to miss out on the important app and onboarding elements.
A good example is Navattic’s onboarding checklist:
With both the estimated time needed for each step and a progress bar on top, it helps first-time users go where they need to be from the very start.
You should internalize the motto that you are here to help users get work done or provide convenience; your product design, content design, and journey mapping should all abide by this.
It is your responsibility not to put an extra burden on their shoulders.
5- Collect feedback after the first interaction with users
Designing a good user journey map and developing an effective onboarding strategy is easy.
Keeping it up is hard.
Continuous feedback is more than crucial to keep the product optimized and up to your users’ taste, including the newest ones.
This help you with two things:
👉 Collecting qualitative, real-time feedback from people who are experiencing your product for the first time, which can reshape your UX, product design, and onboarding strategy,
👉 Gaining the trust and respect of first-time users by checking in with them to see if everything is okay, the very definition of a good first impression
Three things to be careful about when asking for feedback from new users, though:
✅ It should always be short, quick, and easy to answer,
✅ It should never take them out of the product (danger of leaving for good!)
✅ It should always say please and thank you using extra good copy
Here’s a cool example from Canva:
Bonus tip: the most actionable feedback survey is the NPS (Net Promoter Score).
You can take a look at our article to learn more about NPS.
Now, let’s take a closer look at some good examples and best practices.
Top 3 First-Time User Experience Examples and Best Practices
Now, we’ve already had a fair share of good examples and best practices above, but here is my personal top 3 first-time user experience examples and best practices.
Let’s get straight into it:
1- Notion: progress and clean UI
As I suggested earlier, when signing up, users should not be bothered too much.
Be it in-app messages, security questions, confirmation email pop-ups, and especially error messages.
It can all wait.
The process should not take too much time and should not require too much effort from the users.
If you want to provide a satisfying first-time user experience, this is where everything starts.
Here is a great example from Notion, one of the best project management software in the market:
Notion’s signup process is completed in only 4 essential steps, and as an ideal customer onboarding practice, it gives users the option to complete some steps later in their journey.
They also use a progress bar to make the process more digestible for new users, and information hotspots to not crowd the UI while still offering further information.
Knowing that first-time user experience is important, they make it easier and more convenient for users.
Let’s roll back to our number one best practice up above:
👉 Simple welcome message,
👉 Offer of a product tour,
👉 Skip option (!)
Slack is one of the best to turn theory into practice when it comes to this best practice for first-time user experiences.
I said earlier, and I’ll say it again; forcing users to take the product tour is a no-go.
And Slack knows that very well.
Here’s how they do it:
You can see that Slack does not bombard users with too much information in their first interaction with users.
Considering that users already know how to use their app, they give users the opportunity to skip the tour.
They nailed it!
Another important crucial step that I talked about above was using checklists, progress, and time indicators.
And another project management software is again really good at putting theory into practice.
ClickUp helps users know where they are on their journey using a fun little checklist of 4 simple steps; all individual items are timed.
Since their product is all about organizing tasks, they provide these checklists to help users manage their time better and make sure that they are not missing out on anything.
Here is a quick look:
A first time doing anything is likely to be remembered even after a long time.
The first experience of users with your app is no exception to this.
Throughout the article, I wanted to help you understand what first-time user experience is, why it is important, and how you could successfully provide a first-time user experience to a new user.
I hope that you can make use of my suggestions to the fullest and give a perfect first impression that will impress users at least as much as the examples above impressed me.
Good luck creating an effective, contextual, empathetic and holistic experience for your FTUE!
Frequently Asked Questions
What does FTUE stand for?
FTUE stands for first-time user experience. It is the name given to the feelings and ideas evoked in users after their first interaction with your app.
What makes a good first-time user experience?
Convenience and a helping hand to users will impress them. You should make it easier for users to get to your app. Welcoming them with a short message, you should then help them learn how to use your app.
What is new user experience?
In the world of apps, new user experience, also known as first-time user experience (FTUE), is a user’s first interaction with an app.