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I am making a calculator app that uses some new ideas for data manipulation. The details aren't important, only that the user needs to be taught new principles.

Recently, there has been some talk going around about how 'instruction screens are evil' and 'bad UX!!!' However, some of the most successful apps use it, notably Clear.

I am wondering what the community here thinks about this issue, and, more importantly, what I should do in my app.

Should I have a well-designed welcome screen, little bouncy animations, tooltip things, or a video of Martians teaching kittens how to use the app?

NOTE: The last option is not possible. I don't have the resources to make it, and no one knows what Martians look like anyway.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

I wouldn't say screens with instructions are evil. There are of course some disadvantages of using them, namely that the user is not allowed to use the application right after it is launched for the very first time, but this only means that when the UI does not need any explanations, you shouldn't include these, as they do more harm than profit.

Every time when you need to explain to the user how to use the application, an introductory screen is a good idea. It's a minimum that will let the users start using the app and not be confused with some features later, which would lead to necessity of reading some manual. Instructions, however, should be as minimal as possible when displayed at the beginning. It is something that needs to be decided on particular app basis how much of these you want (or maybe that these are not needed at all).

There are various ways to display instructions.

  • In some cases (apps like todo or notepads) you can use the actual app functionality (e.g. tasks) to display more information about the features the application gives ("This task is due today.") I like it a lot, because it lets you avoid adding a new screen to the app and user can actually fiddle with the example.

  • Another option is adding a semi-transparent layer over the interface. It's nice, as it is minimallistic, can be closed with a little button "Got it!", but you can only use it when you can depict all the app features on one screen.

  • If the application has more complicated features and flow, you sometimes need to add a tutorial. In this case, you should keep it as short as possible while keeping its explanatory function. You can consider using two methods to let users choose if they want to go through the tutorial or not. First one is asking "Would you like to see tutorial?" in the beginning and the second is adding a "Skip tutorial" link in the tutorial screen.

Anyway, it's not bad to have an option to see the tutorial again burried somewhere in the Settings or About screen. If you do so, you should rememner to display information about a possibility to see tutorial when user skips it or chooses not to see it at all on the first launch.

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