The first time you open the Uber app, it prompts you to register and then immediately asks you where you want to be picked up. Before you know it, a status ticker tells you how long you’ve got to wait for your ride, and soon an Uber driver is there to pick you up.

The Uber app employs the perfect walkthrough, precisely because it doesn’t feel like one.

It just feels like you jumped straight into the app and started using it from the get-go, but in reality the app is guiding you through the sign-up process and steering you towards a successful first use — all so that you can request and pay for your first ride. Sarah Perez reminds us on TechCrunch that “using an app” should be the best part about it, so “getting [users] there as quickly as possible should be developers’ goal.”

If users of your app can get right into the experience they’re looking for without any instruction, then you don’t need a walkthrough. However, if anything in your app requires explanation before a user can really start to use it, then that’s where walkthroughs come in.

If your app requires a walkthrough, make sure it’s the last part of your app that you design.

You don’t want any outdated instructions in your walkthrough, so avoid making a user’s guide based on something you haven’t finished building.

Be Helpful, But Not Annoying

The delicate balance you have to manage when designing a walkthrough is to be helpful, but not annoying. We have all had experiences where somebody offered to help us and we appreciated it. We have also had experiences where somebody offered to help, and they weren’t helpful.

Be sure your walkthrough is helpful, not patronizing or irritating.

Here are some simple rules to keep in mind when creating a perfect app walkthrough:

  1. Let users opt out. No matter how proud you are of your walkthrough, realize upfront that some people will want to skip it, so be sure to build that option in. Some people will already know how to use your app and others just like to figure things out on their own. Either way, let your users do things their way.
  2. Get users started. If your user has to do something (e.g., pick a username, upload a photo) before they can begin enjoying your app, then include this in your walkthrough. When users finish your walkthrough, they should have already done whatever is needed to get going — they shouldn’t be stuck with no clear place to go.
  3. Don’t overwhelm. Germaine Satia of Smashing Magazine calls it the “One Slide, One Concept” rule. Even if you’re not using slides for your walkthrough, the principle still applies: don’t give your users too much information at once. If you try to squeeze an explanation of how to do everything your app can do into just a few small screens, disaster could strike. Start out with the basics. Walkthroughs can be broken up into smaller pieces, with different parts triggered when users access different areas of your app for the first time. Some features of your app might not be useful or worth mentioning unless your user has already utilized other features.
  4. Stay with your brand. Make sure your walkthrough is consistent with the tone and purpose of the rest of your app. If you created a game, then the walkthrough should be fun and memorable. If you created a news app, then the walkthrough should be informative and up to date. If you created a FinTech app, then the walkthrough should convey the security you want users to feel while using your app.

“The walkthrough should fit the overall appearance and style of your brand in order to look like an inseparable part of your app.” — Bogdan Sandu, Design your way

Begin With The End In Mind

Along with staying true to your brand, it’s also important to stay focused on the user experience when building your walkthrough. If you’re uncertain whether to build a walkthrough or to include a particular item in it, ask yourself whether what you’re considering is consistent with the user experience you’re aiming for. A great walkthrough won’t stand out from the rest of your app as something weird that happened once, it should be integrated and feel like a part of the rest of the user experience: a natural introduction.

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