We get used to home and neighbourhood just like products we use every day. Sensing a sudden change in the environment frightens us.

Constant updates inconvenience us and mandate relearning.

How could anyone motivate us to update something unknown in our well-inhabited app?

This article covers how to communicate product updates and release notes in an app and the importance of articulating them. 

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The Challenges of Updates

Imagine going home one day to find your bed painted green and put out on the balcony – with a small post-it that says,

“We’re always making changes and improvements to your furniture. Please let us relocate and repaint your stuff regularly.”

What would you say? Definitely not something beautiful. How would it differ for a digital product?

It’s a misbelief that users don’t care what’s been updated in their favourite app. Think about it: they spend more time with it than talking to other human beings.

In fact, people out there

  • hope for that new feature they requested
  • wait for certain bugs to be fixed
  • getupset if something unexpected slows them down, or
  • just live as early adopters, ready for a new adventure.

Letting people know what’s happening with their favourite product builds trust and engagement. Rolling out new releases without any handrail may result in grumbling, 1-star ratings, angry emails, or – in the worst case – user backlash.

Conduct interviews and user tests, and create (tiny) user journeys. Fortunately, adoption speed, opening and click through rates in the release email, in-app tour viewership, etc. help fully measure an update’s parameters.

Analyze and create the perfect channels and methods for product updates with user tests and metrics.

Big companies also realized their apps rank higher if they pull new releases more frequently (e.g. on a weekly basis). Also, their development phases likely to be agile fit more easily.

These mainly under-the-hood improvements and minor bug fixes naturally don’t need walkthroughs or tooltips. But doing this all the time without detailing the changes may cause frustration among users.

How do these version history monsters below make you feel?

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People may ask, “Why constantly update if there’s nothing new, and the apps take up more storage day after day?” and just turn it off. In the following weeks new viruses would come out and WannaCry infects their hard drive.

Reasons To Communicate Product Updates

Read these three completely subjective opinions why articulating product updates greatly benefits both designers and users:

#1 Users will feel at home

Communicating product updates demonstrates care about users. This shows them ❤️ and involves them deeper in the product. The more they see their questions answered in advance, the safer they’ll feel. So the more their needs and requests get heard, the more they’ll help you by suggesting new ideas, reporting bugs or writing 5-star reviews. Or they’ll just thank you for the effort.

#2 It helps with numbers

How? Let users know about fantastic new updates to increase retention rate. Win back currently inactive users who were waiting for a certain feature. Also grow the percentage of early adopters to decrease optimizing for earlier product versions. And it helps many other numbers, based on the type of product.

#3 It invites for new adventures

Pro users wanna have fun and they need to discover new possibilities. New essential or delight features release their endorphins. Posted product update notes nudge them into beginning their adventure (probably the most subjective reason of all).

Unsure about how to move on with your design processes? Check our e-book, the Product Manager’s Guide to UX Design.

Five Ways To Get Started

Aaand here we are. These are my favorite and most recent examples from the world of digital products. May they help in crafting something amazing!

1. Release Notes

Mobile and desktop app stores need release notes, but they see overuse in many cases. These tiny little text boxes could create a window to a new world. Still, they feel like a secret kept for true fanatics. Although not many people read them, but those who do could represent your closest users.

No need to mention the Slack team’s amazing notes as you’ve probably seen them.

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They

  • get straight to the point, honestly;
  • categorize changes based on type;
  • include reactions to user feedback;
  • apologize if something went really wrong, and
  • of course, use laughter as a cure for every unsolved bug.

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These notes additionally give a visual reinforcement of new updates in the desktop app, showing the important highlights when opened.

Trello has some great lines too, where they use their own product for release notes.

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A simple but funny one: Tumblr makes them hard not to read sometimes (but I still miss some explanation for a bug fix as well).

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Before revolutionizing a product’s release notes, don’t forget to:

  • Compose: work with users’ phrasing and get straight to the point;
  • List: use bullet points to make it easy to read;
  • Divide: use capitals, white space and other characters;
  • Multiply: use it everywhere e.g. in the Store, on your website, in your blog.

Read these best practices before trying it out.

Use Release Notes:

  • anytime possible.

2. Modals

Modal windows also showcase completely new features or a redesign besides their usual onboarding function. They can appear separately or in a series.

Modals draw attention to clear and simple messages, even in case of impatient users.

On the other hand, people want to skip modals. They want to use the product without distraction, so a modal series that explains too much obstructs people and breaks process.

Doodle’s modal for its redesigned desktop site included

  • a simple and kind message,
  • a vote page visible in the background and
  • an option to switch back to the old site afterwards.

release notes_product updates

RealtimeBoard shows a “What’s new” window every time they release something new while opening a board. But we usually open a board to work on it, not to read highlights about the newest features (in my opinion).

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Use modals when:

  • Onboarding or
  • Redesigning.

3. Tooltips

Explain new features at that exact part of the app. Let people discover the product and give them small bits of information to try new things. This way people will see these in context, but only when needed.

Medium bravely introduced claps. Since this novelty works a bit differently on desktop and mobile, they really put effort into informing their users. (Still, after trying on a random article, it took minutes to undo claps on mobile. Guess how.)

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Use tooltips when:

  • Releasing a new feature
  • Redesigning.

4. Walkthroughs (first use + new feature)

Walkthroughs use blocking modals, tooltips and other elements to guide tours through a product. They serve as the perfect handrails when changing many things at once.

But remember – let users discover the product. Keep the walkthrough more as a handrail than an education. Make them skippable, not required for opening.

Zeplin uses walkthroughs to help with onboarding, but also with new product updates including:

  • Visible animations,
  • Straight-to-the-point copy,
  • Opt-in opening.

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Skype uses a walkthrough in their redesigned mobile application to indicate the new features’ locations (not as obvious as it seems).

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Use walkthroughs when:

  • Onboarding,
  • Redesigning,
  • Doing complex feature release.

5. Empty states

Letting a feature explain itself functions usefully. These “feature empty states” keep up the joy of discovery, appear in context and don’t disturb users.

On the other hand, they’re hard to find: users only meet them on that designated screen. So to highlight a new feature and put it out in front, use these empty states as an additional tool.

Instagram introduced Threaded Replies with a threaded reply. Clever!

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Use empty states when:

  • Releasing a minor feature.

Conclusion

To see further examples, reallygoodux.io explores a new app’s processes and useronboard.com provides onboarding examples with fine commentary.

This article should encourage intensive communication of updates to users. Many other aspects might come up in a different post. If you have more ideas on your mind, I’d be happy to check them below in a comment 🙂

What could be your next steps?

1) Do research

  • Read users feedback on updates
  • Talk to customer support staff
  • Create user journeys for updates

 

2) Define the update content

  • Feature Release?
  • Design update?
  • Bug fixes?
  • Performance improvements?
  • Security updates?

3) Choose tool(s) related to your update content

  • Work consistently
  • Don’t overwhelm

 

4) Measure and improve

  • Test with real users

Interested in designing products that people love? Read more about the topic in our Product Design book – we’ll deliver it with free shipping worldwide!