4 Reasons why onboarding tours and coach marks don’t work.

Posted on Jun 5, 2021

App tours and coach marks hurt your onboarding customer experience. Find and fix Usability and User Experience problems like this, before they become customer problems.

This article was originally published a while back as a Usability Insights content piece on LinkedIn. Download the PDF to share with your friends and colleagues.




People don’t read the instructions.

Onboarding coach marks, tours, and tutorials become a nuisance to click past, interrupting your customer’s mental state and use flow.

Short-term memory is really short-term.

Users typically forget everything as soon as they close the tutorial because our short-term memory doesn’t retain very much information.

By the time people are done reading this, they’ll have forgotten most of the information and will have to learn how to use the app by using what looks like a very complicated and poorly designed product.

This is an example of a ridiculous amount of coach mark overload. If your product looks like this, you should rethink your product UX and design

The point.

Even if users would save time in the long-term by reading coach marks and tutorials, that’s not how people behave in the real world.

This is called “The Paradox of the Active User”.


Context is everything.

Onboarding coach marks and tutorials present information completely out of context for your customers.

One thing at a time.

Your users can’t read coach marks and use the app at the same time. So they’re forced to memorize instructions at launch and try to apply them later.

People want solutions. Not puzzles.

We don't open an app to learn how to use the interface.  We want to jump in and complete tasks as quickly as possible.

The point.

Skip the onboarding overlays and support your customers through contextual helpability by displaying tips only when necessary, as they use your product.



Let's get to work.

Contact me to discuss how we can work together on your project. Message me directly or send an email.

Let's get to work.

Contact me to discuss how we can work together on your project. Message me directly or send an email.



Perceived complexity creates real complexity.

Coach marks and onboarding tutorials imply that your product is difficult to use. 

If you say “it’s complicated” then it’s complicated. Even the most intuitive interfaces can be perceived as complex by adding unnecessary coach marks, tours, or tutorial overlays.

In this example, a simple image search is made complicated by an unnecessary coach mark that disrupts the user’s experience.

This is a case where better design and a clearer icon would have made a massive difference in the user experience.

The point.

It’s better to find and fix usability and UX issues rather than add disruptive barriers like coach marks and tutorials.


Make users happy with early wins.

Focus on the core purpose of your product and help new customers succeed at that.

Progressive disclosure.

As users engage with your product introduce them to new actions and features seamlessly through contextual discovery.

Microsoft Word is a very complicated software, yet it’s easy for new users to jump in and do what they set out to do.

The point.

Helping customers succeed early on will make them happy and encourage them to explore other features.

Get a Rapid UX Audit.

Make the Experience Matter with a UX Audit to catch UX problems before they become customer problems.

Let's do great things

Get in touch to talk about your next project.

Create experiences that people love.

I work with future-thinking brands, agencies and startups looking to create the next killer product or campaign.

If that sounds like you, get in touch.

Message me

Email me