You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression: 3 Tips for A Great First Time User Experience

First impressions matter.  Daniel Kahneman reminds us of that in Thinking, Fast and Slow. We’re all wired to make snap judgements – maybe it’s how someone smells the first time you meet her, what the new model of a car looks like, or how a new song on the radio starts off.  If your product doesn’t make a good first impression, you’ve ruined your chance for a great relationship with that user.  So how can you make sure prospective users become users, and that they have a great first time experience?  Here are 3 suggestions:

1. Don’t neglect the discovery experience.

How did a prospective user hear about your product?  This is a critical part of the first time experience because (a) it’s where a prospective user is forming their first impression of your product and (b) it’s likely when expectations are set. Don’t underestimate the power of the smallest detail here: the marketing message you pick for an ad, a landing page hero image, the screen shots and reviews of your app in the App Store, etc.  At each step, prospects are making snap judgements on whether to continue.

Using the Jobs to be Done framework, the focus during the discovery experience should be highlighting how your product can help a prospective user do a job better than what she’s using today.  Think your budgeting app is better than spreadsheets?  Highlight that.  Want them to know that your new social network is subscription based, so there aren’t any ads? Mention it.

Let’s look at an example – an ad I saw recently on Instagram for HotelTonight.


Hmm, I usually only book hotels for work trips, and I usually plan those weeks in advance.  I don’t think this app is for me.  Also, this image is weird – why’s this guy falling into a bed at a luxury hotel?  Maybe they only work with luxury hotels…

I did not tap on Install Now…

2. Demonstrate value quickly.

During the discovery experience,  you’ve set some expectations on the value your product will provide to the user.  Now make sure you follow through on meeting those expectations by delivering value quickly – I mean within a minute, which is probably how much time a new user is going to give your product.

Let’s look at an example of how to NOT demonstrate value quickly – this is the first thing I saw when I opened the Letgo app for the first time:


Ugh, I wanted to sell some of the kids’ toys we don’t use anymore, but I can’t even see if others are posting toys and if so, for how much and whether there are people posting similar items in my area.  I literally deleted the app within 3 seconds of seeing this page because I can’t proceed without registering.

I see this all the time – forcing a user to register before she even knows what she’s gonna get for doing so.  You know what she’s going to get because you think about it every day at work for hours.  She doesn’t.  Instead, create an experience where she can explore the value of your product BEFORE committing to it.  Not doing so is the equivalent of a car dealer forcing you to buy a car the minute you walk in through the door, without a test drive or the ability to walk around the showroom and check out the different models.

Now an example of how to deliver value quickly – the Recolor app, which I found by looking through the top free apps in the App Store (discovery!).  I chose to download it because I’m always looking for new ways to unwind on the train ride home from work, and I’ve found casual games to be good. (if Recolor was on top of their Jobs to be Done game, they would hopefully uncover the insight that they’re competing with Candy Crush and staring at the ads on the El – the others ways I might pass the time on the commute home)


Within 20 seconds of opening the app, I figured out how to select a picture to color and after a brief animated interaction tutorial, I was coloring.  There’s something quite relaxing about coloring in this picture…

3. Let them know what jobs your product can help them with.

Let’s say your app has 5 features but a new user only used one as a part of her first time experience.  How would she know about the other 4 features, which might be really valuable to her?  This needs to be part of the first time experience.

Let’s look back at the Recolor app as an example of how they did this really well:



Within 5 seconds of glancing at this, I noticed a few things that taught me how Recolor works: 1. There’s an Import feature in the top right, which I immediately knew meant I could pull in my own photos and recolor them – nice, a really personal touch. 2. The headline at the top is that new pictures post in 2 hours – now I know that if I get bored of the pictures they have right now, I can come back to the app often to keep myself entertained. 3. The fact that they called out Free as a filter lets me know that I should expect to pay for some pictures at some point. 4. The bottom navigation tabs let me know the key features of the app – a library of photos to color, a gallery (of other people’s work, I presume, since there’s also a My Works tab) and an activity tracker.

Another great example of feature discovery is Amazon Alexa emails.  Every Friday, I get something like this to let me know what’s new with Alexa – this is a particularly great tactic if your product is new and changing often (don’t assume users are using your product that frequently).


Oh nice, I can hear the monologue. I love how they tell me how to activate – and use – this new skill.  


They also do an awesome job reminding me that Alexa herself can tell me about her new skills, just me asking her “Alexa, what new things can you do?”  That’s great, because I can discover and activate new skills as I’m interacting with my Echo.

EDIT: A few months after writing this post, I realized that I rarely use any Alexa skills, nor do I ever ask Alexa what new skills she's learned.  It comes down to the behavioral science of this - if I don't try this right when I read the email (which isn't always possible because I'm not in the same room as my Echo), there's no cue to remind me to try it later.  Perhaps if my Echo blinked a soothing blue light I might remember that means that Alexa has new skills.  But I never got into the habit of asking Alexa about her new skills, and I find that I ignore this weekly email.

In Summary

If there’s one thing to take away from this post it’s this: don’t neglect the first time user experience – if you don’t make a great first impression, you’ve likely lost a user forever (it’s really hard to re-engage someone who’s dismissed your product).