Rethinking product onboarding for a new user base.


12 Week Independent Exploratory Project
(Unaffiliated with Discord)
Role: Product Designer, UX Researcher


Published on UX Collective: 
Using Video Games to Learn about Product Onboarding

01 Overview


When the pandemic started, Discord experienced a 47% increase in its user base.

As the need for online communities grew, Discord exploded in popularity. All of a sudden, Discord became more than just a platform for gamers. It grew into a product and platform that became the home for thousands of different communities, and with it came new users from Zoom and Slack that didn't know how Discord's servers work.

When new users don't know how to use something, they get frustrated and leave.

Discord, at its core, is a developer-oriented technical platform that was made for gamers to jump into and tab out of. Discord's problem today isn't with remaking its core product (it's still fantastic). Instead, as its user base evolves, the reframed problem is how it can effectively onboard the new type of users booting up Discord for the first time.


How do we effectively introduce
users to Discord?

Key User Research

Discord's onboarding was built for its original consumers, gamers.

Through in-person interviews and online forums, I noticed that most new users coming to Discord are used to popular non-gamer conventions established by other platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc. The introduction to Discord, a different model of online communication needed to meet a different set of requirements based on what users knew from other platforms.

02 Solution

Product Overview

Redesigning Discord's onboarding for a new set of users.

To better introduce a complex, technical product like Discord to a new user base, I sought to reorganize and provide a more focused flow to Discord's product onboarding model in order to elevate the experience of using Discord itself.

To do so, I reframed Discord's onboarding into three specific stages that can be thought of as onboarding "playthroughs".

Onboarding Playthrough #1

Learning the Basics

The first playthrough is focused on getting the first-time user to the first milestone goal of simply talking to their friends in a voice channel. This initial goal affirms Discord's functionality and establishes a baseline for users seeking to use the platform at its most basic level.

UI elements such as spotlighting and tooltips are utilized to create a more linear guide through the first stage of onboarding.

A linear first-time onboarding seeks to improve second-time return rates.

By establishing the baseline, the goal is that more users having justified basic use case are more likely to open Discord a second time around.

Onboarding Playthrough #2

Understanding Servers

Once the first user objective is reached, onboarding can begin to expand user knowledge about Discord's core product, developing the user's understanding of what a server is.

The onboarding experience begins to start moving away from linear UI elements such as spotlighting, and adds new more unobtrusive elements such as clickable mission markers and banners.

By onboarding basic server functionality, the likelihood of users staying grows.

The second onboarding's ultimate goal is to help users grow into their usage, and in turn grow Discord's returning user base.

Onboarding Playthrough #3

Being in Control

Given that server knowledge is established, onboarding now sits at a stage where learning and discovery should be more intrinsic, non-linear, and completely up to the user. In this third stage, the user has now ideally downloaded the native app and is now embarking on their own onboarding discovery, shaping the experience to their own needs.

In this playthrough, there's no need for extra UI elements and overlays, and components are essentially built to have integrated onboarding functions. Any extra elements should be indistinguishable from the core product itself.

It's in this stage that users start shaping Discord to their own personal preferences, and the Discord of an experienced user start to take form. At the perceived "end" of the third playthrough, the user's comfort with the product should be at an all time high.

Users that are in control can begin to invite their friends to the platform itself.

Ultimately, by creating a "new veteran of Discord", the experienced users are now in turn able to stimulate user growth by inviting their inexperienced counterparts.

03 Strategy

Key Findings

People would join servers for the first time, but never return.

Even among my own gamer friends, people would initially join servers that they were invited into, but would never return. In some cases, it was a lack of need or interest. But for many, it was because they didn't know how to start their own calls, or mute, or create their own channels, etc.

Most users were aware of the value of Discord, but couldn't overcome the hurdles of learning how to use it.

Because of how Discord's current product onboarding is set up, it wasn't effectively teaching new users how to actually use the product in the context of prebuilt servers. Most of Discord's most valuable onboarding came when people created their own servers, which people weren't doing for their first time in the platform

Main Focus

Creating product onboarding to more effectively retain new users.
04 Process


Classifying users by experience.

For the sake of onboarding, Discord's user base could be broken down into two specific types. One side consists of Discord's traditional gamer user base, while the other takes into account the new, inexperienced user base.

For "server rookies", the typical starting point for most of these users is a friend invite, with most coming over to Discord to join pre-established servers. We can reframe the onboarding journey to reflect this, with each user type representing the beginning and end of onboarding.


Designing three specific flows to meet three specific goals.

Knowing our specific user base and the journey that the server rookies go through, an initial onboarding flow can be sketched out. This can be shown with linear lo-fi sketches, broken down into three stages that each reach a respective onboarding goal.


Testing pre-existing vs. revamped.

Two different forms of user testing is used to optimize and make sure the onboarding functions as intended.

First, A/B tests with specific Discord onboarding components are conducted, which help distinguish which UI elements are more useful.

Second, I wanted to test each onboarding stage as a singular test, so each of the three onboarding playthroughs were tested individually to ensure that they could reach specific user milestones as stand-alone entities.

Run through the hi-fi wire tests.


Creating a new onboarding experience.

Once specific corrections, tweaks, and general tinkering is complete, final high-fidelity prototypes of Discord's revamped onboarding are created.

Playthrough 01

Playthrough 02

Playthrough 03

05 Reflection
Does this work for different use cases and server sizes?

With this project, there's still more to consider ex. how onboarding can evolve in relation to future updates and patch notes. What I've identified is incredibly narrow, and doesn't take into consideration how onboarding can function in larger community servers that are boosted by Discord's premium paid service, Nitro.

However, even with this first exploration I can begin to think of ways innovate on the core product itself. For example, what if there was a new product better suited to the pandemic-inducted user base - maybe make a Discord mini for browsers?

(side note: if you're a Discord designer, I'd love to talk to you about this speculative project!)

Next Project: Sigil

Discord | Sigil | Stockholm Olympics | Castella | HarmoniaBlossomsAdding Matter