The Most Important User Story in Your Backlog

By Drory Ben-Menachem, Creative Director
OK, show of hands…
How many of you have gotten this as a first-view, after installing an app on your favorite mobile device?


Now, I obviously cannot see your hands raised in frustrated empathy, but I imagine that the response to my question is effectively 100% “yes”.

A growing number of mobile apps (and digital experiences overall) are working on the presumption that it’s OK to force users to sign up for a service before allowing them to even see the experience.  There are countless articles on the Web touting the “value” of starting your mobile app experience with a login/signup gateway, but this advice is invariably given through the lens of business goals and marketing KPIs.  Even articles that correctly assess the challenge — “you have 30 seconds at most to impress on people why they should use your app” — still mostly talk about how to get users to sign up quickly and easily, not when or if you should.

Imagine you’re wandering through your local mall.  Instead of being able to freely browse each store to see what you like, you’re presented with an endless series of locked doors – and windows covered with tiny pictures and brief descriptions of what might be inside.  Then if you want to actually go into a store, you have to show your driver’s license to a scanner attached to the locked door.  And if the store is really “savvy”, they’ll ask you to share your friends’ contact information so you can invite them to “this exclusive experience” — which you still haven’t experienced yourself and have no clue if it’s worth anything to you.


NEWS-FLASH:  customers don’t like sharing their information without a good reason.

Thus, I’m humbly recommending that everyone include this user-story in their project backlog:

As a (user-type), I want to freely explore your (site/app/service) so I can determine the benefit/value of signing up.

Or if you’re a job-story fan like me:

When I launch your (site/app/service) for the first time, I want to freely explore it so I can determine the benefit/value of signing up.


Don’t add.  Just subtract.

Many have attempted to mitigate this barrier-to-entry by leading with the increasingly-popular “onboarding slideshow” — which in and of itself is nice, as it attempts to preview (and train the user on) the experience visually.  It does not, however, replace the empowering feeling of being able to freely explore the experience before committing.  In Luke Wroblewski’s book Web Form Design he refers to the concept of gradual engagement, which can be summed up thusly:  

“Hey, here’s a product we made for you, feel free to take it for a spin on your own. If you like it, you should sign up so we can provide you with even more value.”

So instead of adding more things to make signing up at first-launch more appealing, get rid of the signup gateway altogether and focus on making the experience itself so appealing that customers will gladly signup when it’s truly important to do so.

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