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After so many years of developing applications, I still cannot answer this with any confidence. You build a solid app, there are great features, it is solving some problem, that's fine.

But what should be the "home" or "main page" experience for that application when the user logs in, both for the very first time, and every other time they log in? Is there some way I can think about this that will make it easier for me to decide what goes on that page?

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In addition to the first experience and early experiences that @Omar has identified, and with a bit of overlap with what Omar wrote, think about being:

  • Meaningful. What do the app's users typically need, so 80% of the time? So: "The thing you want most is RIGHT HERE."
  • Respectful. Persistence of objects is one way to respect users. So: "We didn't re-arrange your desk while you were away." There are other ways to be respectful.
  • Current. Push important stuff that users want. If the app is for messages, then list the new messages. So: "We re-arranged your desk for you while you were away."
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I think there cannot be a hard and fast rule for showing something on home page. Also it depends which type of application it is. If you think user need to be guided about the usage of the product then you can put some kind of demo on the home page on his/her first-time login (like Windows, Facebook, etc. offer a guided tour on first signup).

If you don't want to offer a tour/demo on home page then you should strive for feature exposure. Put visual clues for using features of your application. Manage to focus users' attention (by putting items on right place, coloring scheme , effective writing). Remember, don't squander users' patience and don't make user think. Your stuff should be obvious, on right place and self explanatory because users don't read, they scan.

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I like this question, because you are not asking for a solution, but 'a way to think about it' which will help you and your clients make good decisions.

@JeromeR's recommendations are a great way to start thinking about a homepage, convincing others to think in the same way, and setting a vision for your application.

As experienced designers and realists, we know that we won't get it all right the first time

Just as important as the initial design, is to set up an environment for continuous improvement

  • Ensure you have analytics and data monitoring build in from the start. Set this up at planning stage and if necessary, reduce features in order to get this into scope
  • Think about the type of user behaviour that you want to monitor, and theorise about the problems you expect to find. Ensure your analytics are optimised to report on this in a meaningful way
  • Get management buy in and budget early, for a continuous improvement programme. Make sure that there are long term processes, planning and resources in place to make this work

The decisions you make on what goes in will get your product out to market. The decisions you make afterward will ensure it is the best product on the market.

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