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I am building a list where logged in users have the ability to add to this list. Accordingly, there is an add new button to do so.

For the best, most seamless experience, should this button be visible before users have registered an account on the site? Should the functionality be visible, but prompt users to sign up thereafter?

This is relatively common practice particularly for 'likes' or 'reposts,' but this is such explicit functionality that the use case is different. This is similar to this question as well as this one. The insight from the answers there is relevant but does not answer this question.

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I am for allowing the users to play with the application before they sign up. From a user experience point of view, I see no reason for prompting them to sign up unless the actions they do really need a user identity or access rights.

There are business decisions that might prevent you from doing so. Some startups would do anything to grow their user base, and force the sign up to gather as many users/emails as possible.

Another pattern that I have seen is to show a tutorial wizard before the sign up screen. This way, the user has an idea of what the application is about, before committing to create an account.

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