3 Mobile Development Lessons to Take from LinkedIn’s New App Design

This is one company that truly understands the importance of a solid onboarding process.

New app versions are born every day, but when a tech giant such as LinkedIn releases a new version of its mobile entity, the world pays extra attention. In this case, since a social platform is in question, we’re all naturally interested in learning how these changes will affect us as users. But there’s also a special treat for the mobile pros in the crowd: a valuable lesson on what to focus on when building an app for today’s mobile users.

Getting Users on Board

User onboarding has proven time and time again to be one of the most important steps in turning app downloads into loyal users. Knowing this, LinkedIn has always placed an emphasis on its mobile first impression. Back in 2013, the company introduced a dynamic personalized onboarding flow, distinguishing between different types of users in terms of suggested content. Now, in addition to presenting users with recommended companies to follow based on their mobile persona, LinkedIn allows first-time users to choose specific fields of interest they wish to see in their feed.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 2.37.43 PMThis is one company that truly understands the importance of a solid onboarding process, after realizing that their previous improvements encouraged 72 percent of users who completed the onboarding flow to perform at least one app action and become significantly more engaged.

Jeff Rodfern, vp of product at LinkedIn, described the process on the company’s blog: “for the first time, as part of a lightweight onboarding process, we are going to ask you what content you are interested in”. LinkedIn understands that a feed filled with irrelevant content is the last thing new users should meet. Mobile users already feel like they use too many social accounts, and have very little patience (or storage space) for anything less than necessary.

The fact that LinkedIn chose to display such screens as part of the ever-so-crucial onboarding stage indicates that the company wants users to know right away how relevant the content on its platform is, thus encouraging users to engage with it and trust it. It is also an educational step, explaining to users that they should share a specific type of content on LinkedIn, and adopt a different tone than the one they present on other social networks. It’s all about making the right first impression, and there is no room for mistakes.

It’s Always Personal

Rodfern’s announcement means two things for app developers: the onboarding process has to be great, and it has to be personalized. And so, another key factor in LinkedIn’s effort to create a better app is the focus on who the user is and what the user wants. For the lack of a better solution, the app asks users to choose subjects and industries they are interested in, promising to deliver a customized feed based on this selection.

This is an interesting move for a mobile product like LinkedIn. Generally speaking, social apps have the most convenient access to user data and should never have to directly and openly ask users to choose their desired content. In fact, a few social networks know us better than our closest friends and family members. So why did the company decide to ask users what they wish to see on their feed? Because it’s that important. Showing interest in users’ preferences is not just a data thing – it’s a statement. A promise to deliver only significant information that is appropriate to a network focused on users’ professional lives.

Everything Changes

Getting mobile right is a huge challenge, even for the biggest tech titans around. One reason is that in order to achieve mobile perfection, one must first realize that there is no such thing. The industry’s pace forces companies to constantly update their product and adapt to the latest technology, as well as to users’ moods and needs. LinkedIn’s new version even includes changes that are meant to allow users to easily update the content of their feed or profile.

This latest update isn’t the first and most certainly is not the last version of the app. Mobile developers who follow LinkedIn’s journey can easily see that nearly every aspect of the product went through several changes and adjustments in the past. And while we all enjoy the excitement of a new version, as an industry we must also acknowledge a certain problem: mobile app demand constant updates, which cause a very special kind of frustration for mobile developers.

Since every little tweak to an app requires a new App Store version, very much including the tedious approval process it entails, it’s no wonder that apps are sometimes reluctant to make necessary changes to their product. As long as developers are dependent on gatekeepers to make these changes, they will think twice on whether or not to serve users with the best product they possibly can.

As mobile developers, we should always view our personal experience as a valuable lesson, especially when it comes from a powerful player in the mobile field. This is one update that will change not only how we connect with other figures in the industry, but also how we reach out to our own current and potential users. Smart developers can draw the right conclusions from LinkedIn’s learning process and turn them into mobile gold.

Shai Wolkomir is the co-founder and CEO of Elasticode, a Techstars company helping mobile app owners create and deliver personalized onboarding experiences. Follow Shai on LinkedIn and Twitter.