The Man in Blue


Making magical moments with onboarding

It begins with a bland brown box. If they’ve gone the extra mile it’ll be a customised bland brown box with a small logo; but it’s bland and brown because it’s been made to be barcoded, battered, stickytaped, stamped, and not stolen before arriving at your door. So keeping it low-key makes sense.

Inside … inside makes me go “what the f***?” It’s an alien egg. Sinuous, organic lines chiseled out of some mysterious material that could be plastic, or unobtainium, or … okay, I touch it and it’s just cardboard. Still, it’s intriguing. I wonder how it’s made.

Nuraphone packaging

The box-in-a-box is out of the box-around-the-box and I can see it a bit more clearly now. It’s hinged on one edge, so I pull at the other side and it swings open. There’s a smooth black egg lying inside, screaming understated style. There’s no zips or levers or tabs, so I try the one affordance that’s visible: the silver button. Pulling it away from its recessed notch reveals the satisfying tension of a solid magnetic clasp, and inside awaits the technological treasure that’s at the heart of this experience.


I know these are a pair of nuraphones. Headphones designed with the same matte black finish as their container, exuding style and coolness and the future. Also, in the future there’s no documentation. There’s nothing in there except for a cable and the headphones. Do they need to be charged? How do I connect them to my device? In the absence of directions I pop them onto my head.

That’s when the magic starts.

“Hello, welcome to your new nuraphones.”

She started talking to me just as I put the headphones on. 😱

“Before I can play music I need to learn about your hearing. Download the nura app to get started.”

OK, alluring but firm voice, I will do what you say.

Downloading the app kickstarts the calibration process. It asks for my name and then it starts doing an automated analysis of my ear to figure out how I “hear” sound. In essence, it feels like I’m in a 1980s Doctor Who episode, with bleeps and bloops echoing through my head for a while as the headphones figure out how it should play sound to me so that I can hear the best results.

“First impressions aren’t everything, but they certainly count for a hell of a lot.”

Aside from these nuraphones there’s only one other product that has elicited as much surprise for me during their unboxing – a Seagate external hard drive I bought ten years ago. (Sure, it mightn’t sound glamourous, but the way the copy was written and timed perfectly to get you set up was wonderful.)

A good onboarding sets the stage for what’s to come, and even opens you up to new opportunities. For a device that promises a revolutionary listening experience like the nuraphones do, it’s an important part of the experience. Onboarding primes you for what you’re about to go through and takes you on an unfolding journey to somewhere you’ve never been before. Being dumped unceremoniously there would certainly be a confusing anti-climax.

For physical products there’s even more at stake with the onboarding. Clicking “Buy now” is just one step along the voyage of product experience. While you’re waiting for delivery – waiting to open the box, waiting to try it on and waiting to see if it delivers on its promise of a brighter future – there’s a dangling thread. That sense of incompleteness is only satisfied when you receive your purchase and it meets – or exceeds – your expectations. That moment is an important part of the experience. It’s a real emotional reaction that can result in a deeper connection with the product, making it part of your own identity, giving you your own story to tell and setting you on the road to being a promoter.

If you’re creating products then you really want that first experience to be a bit magical. That magic can come in many different forms and depends entirely on the product which you’re trying to deliver. Nuraphone’s experience is based on sci-fi expectations because they’re using some pretty invisible technology to create a better listening experience. Making you feel like you’re using some futuristic technology is all part of their brand.

At Canva we strive for that magic to be delivered by unlocking the creativity that resides inside everyone. We tested our first onboarding sequence for weeks, tweaking and testing big and small parts of it so that we intimately understood that moment where people thought “wow, I can actually design something good without anyone’s help!” That sequence has delivered us so many heartfelt emails, positive social media messages, and word-of-mouth referrals, that it’s returned the investment we put into it ten times over.

How you onboard people into your own product will depend upon where they start from and where you want to take them. That requires a deep understanding of your users, your product, and your goals. It’s not just about metrics, it’s about emotions. It’s about stories and creating a narrative that spans all the points you want to encompass.

We are re-visiting the onboarding sequence of Canva at the moment and my nuraphones couldn’t have arrived at a better time – they’ve reminded me just how perfect that first experience has to be.

Full disclosure: Nuraphone and Canva share a joint investor in Blackbird. Rick from Blackbird gifted me a pair of them, but with absolutely no expectation that I would write about them. (I’m sure he’s surprised.)

Cameron Adams Cameron Adams is a co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Canva, where he leads the design & product teams and focuses on future product directions & innovative experiences. Read a bit more about him ›