Twitter recently redesigned their sign-up process to boost new user engagement. Though the new sign-up process added one more screen, conversions went up 29%. How? Gradual engagement.

Gradual engagement is the process of moving a user through an application or service – actually engaging with it, and seeing it's benefits. With gradual engagement, new users are not just presented with a registration form and then dropped off a cliff (typical process in many Web applications). Instead, registration is either postponed, or handled behind the scenes and the first time experience is focused on giving people an understanding of how they can use a service and why they should care to.

When done right, gradual engagement communicates the core essence of a service with a few lightweight interactions. If you can make people successful along the way—even better. Will Wright, the creator of the Sims & Spore, has a belief that games should allow people to succeed within the first five seconds. That's a great philosophy to bring to gradual engagement. In fact, I think if you can use lightweight actions to allow people to accomplish something relevant to the core of your product within their first one or two interactions with your service, that's gradual engagement at its finest.

Through their user research, Twitter found that while celebrities (and their tweets) were a big reason people came to Twitter, they did not keep them there. Instead, what kept users on Twitter was the things they were passionate about - hobbies, conversations with subject-matter experts, and friends. This was the core essence of the service that a gradual engagement approach needed to deliver.

previous sign up process

Twitter's previous sign-up process didn't hit the mark. If new users opted to sign-up from the home page, they were greeted with a registration form where they:

In the redesigned sign-up flow on Twitter, the first thing people see after creating an account is a set of topics they may be interested in. These topics are organized by the most popular (music, entertainment, fashion, and art & design) and also include current events (programmed by editors at Twitter).

In the previous sign-up process, new users were seeing things that were random (most popular), now the first thing they do is curate what they care about. Which is the core essence of Twitter and, as a result, a great approach to gradual engagement. In the redesigned flow, people new to Twitter start by following topics they care about (with a few lightweight interactions) and are much less likely to end up with empty home screens.

In the previous sign-up process, new users were seeing things that were random (most popular), now the first thing they do is curate what they care about. Which is the core essence of Twitter and, as a result, a great approach to gradual engagement. In the redesigned flow, people new to Twitter start by following topics they care about (with a few lightweight interactions) and are much less likely to end up with empty home screens.

Redesign sign up process

In fact, even though Twitter's new sign-up process is four steps (instead of three) and therefore more time consuming, it has increased completions 29% and the people who complete the flow are much more engaged on Twitter.

Personally, I'd be really curious to see what would happen if account creation were postponed until after people started following the topics and friends they cared about. Currently it comes first and (therefore) before people get direct personal value from Twitter. As I mentioned earlier, a complete gradual engagement approach would postpose or relegate account creation to the background.

More About Twitter's Sign-Up Redesign

Twitter's creative director, Doug Bowman, discusses Twitter's approach to gradual engagement and the changes referenced above in his talks at the Web App Masters Tour in Seattle on July 12.

More About Gradual Engagement

Getting people through a form is just one way to gather information. On the web, however, forms are often the de facto choice for data requests. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of throwing a web form in front of people every time we need some information, we can turn instead to the principles behind gradual engagement.

Gradual engagement allows us to gather information from people in a way that gets them involved in our web applications. If done right, gradual engagement can also educate people on the benefits and features our applications provide.

For example, Tripit is an application for managing your travel plans by using your travel confirmation emails. The service could easily have asked all new members to sign up through a registration form. Instead, to the join the site new members simply have to send Tripit a travel confirmation email. From this email, Tripit creates an account and extracts the information it needs to create a rich travel plan for new members. No form required. People sign up for Tripit by using it and learning what the application can do for them.

Gradual engagement is an information architecture challenge because it requires us to think about the core essence of an application and develop a process that introduces it to people while gathering the information the service needs to be useful along the way. This sequencing of information requests as interactions has the potential to create more rewarding and memorable first time experiences for web applications.

Luke originally published this article on his web site, LukeW Interface Designs. You can read the original article here.

For more on Form Design...

At the 2011 User Interface Conference, Luke is presenting a 90-minute talk on Tuesday, November 8 on web form design called Input: Moving Beyond Forms.He's also giving a full-day workshop, Designing for Mobile, on November 7. Learn more about Luke's sessions and the other 7 UX pros at UICONF.com.

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