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Onboarding non-gamers to Discord


Product Designer

UX Researcher




8 week personal passion project


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


How do we better introduce a new user group to Discord?


When the 2020 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.

New non-gamer users would join for the first time, but never return.

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.


Understanding how to use Discord should be intuitive for all people, not just a niche group of gamers.

Design roadmap

In an ideal world, the design process is linear. In practice, it rarely is.


Brainstorm & understand

Identify onboarding precedent
Establish scope of research and design work


Learn from users

Talk to people
Understand pain points

Design, test

Diagram & iterate

Outline user flows
Identify areas to focus in on

Design, test

Wireframe & user test

Create initial designs
Revisit with users and refocus on pain points
Create high fidelity mocks


Redesigning Discord's onboarding to spotlight core features blocks out the noise and reduces initial cognitive load.

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".

Solution #1

Introduce the core feature of Discord, calling your friends.

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.

Solution #2

Frame how channels & servers, Discord's core architecture works.

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" (coach tips) and banners.

By demonstrating 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.

Solution #3

Bake in better inherent education into components, for open-ended exploration.

Given that server knowledge is established, onboarding now sits at a stage where learning and discovery should be 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.


By classifying users by gaming experience, two distinct needs and pain points define the design focus.

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 narrows the scope to focus on reusability and familiarity.

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.

User testing

A/B testing components help make minor adjustments that improve cognition and speeds up interaction just a little bit quicker.

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 high-fidelity wireframes

High fidelity for 'handoff'

Defining the specific user flows in a linear path makes implementation direct and straightforward.

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


I've personally always glossed over onboarding as a vital part of a product, and in really taking a step back to explore it again, I've been able to take a second look and learn things I never thought about before.

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 pretty narrow in scope, and doesn't take into consideration how onboarding can function in larger community servers that are boosted by Discord's premium paid service, Nitro.

If you're on the team at Discord with feedback on what I got wrong, ping me! :) this is a personal passion project of mine, so there are no tangible metrics or results measured.