In this project to improve Pantheon's first time user experience (FTUE), we began with user research. Our primary user group are agencies developers building and maintaining sites for clients. We interviewed newly registered users to learn:

  1. Motivations for trying Pantheon
  2. Their product experience, especially where they encounter roadblocks.

During interviews, we learned users are motivated to try Pantheon to solve these common problems:

  • Setting up the same infrastructure for every new project wastes time and non-billable hours. For example, users know developing a on live site is bad practice and can cause breakage, but there is high investment upfront to develop better by setting up things like staging environments. They often don't have time to make this investment, so they continue with the bad practice.
  • Core updates for WordPress and Drupal can be a pain to apply to a site because something may go wrong, and rolling back updates that have gone wrong is even more of a pain. Users want to get unexciting and potentially stressful work like this off their plates.
  • Users need a solution that is reliable. One user told us he doesn't want his client calling him in the middle of the night because the site doesn't work, so that he can get a full night's sleep. And practices like developing on a live site makes it more likely to cause this client-induced sleep deprivation.

In discussing their product experience, we identified a few common roadblocks encountered within the first few minutes:

  1. After creating their first site, users land on this dashboard. Users often know that the next step they need to do is install their chosen CMS and access the code repository. It's unclear how to do either of these.


None of the existing copy or design leads users to the next steps they should take.

2. Pantheon's isolated environments for Development and Testing are ready to be used out-of-the-box which is highly valuable, but users are unclear when and how to use each environment.

3. When users land on the site dashboard for the first time, it is likely they will be overwhelmed with all of the options to choose from - there are 30 interaction choices and no guidance. Users who have no particular task in mind are even more likely to be paralyzed.



With these learnings in mind, we prototyped several approaches to improve the first time experience for users and increase user retention in their first week. Below is a sample.

Prototype 1: Site development flow

We know that users who make a first code commit are more likely to stick with Pantheon as active users, and we know from our analytics that of all users who make at least 1 code commit, 56% do so in the first 4 days of registration. There is a sharp fall off after the first 4 days, so a user's first few days using the product is a critical time to demonstrate how they can work better.

Having identified the major, immediate roadblocks to starting site development, this prototype redesigns the flow to reduce these roadblocks. When users land on the dashboard after creating the site, there is no direction on what to do next.  The prototype picks up after site spin-up to improve this:

After creating their first site, the prototype directed users to install WordPress right away.


Once WordPress was installed, we gave them a success confirmation, which we know from past observation users were looking for as reinforcement that they had installed the CMS correctly. When a confirmation is not present, users became hesitant to continue. This prototype also includes guidance on a next step.


Old design: the command the user needs to clone their repository is buried around a lot of introductory information that most don't need, making it difficult to locate.


The prototype reduced the dropdown to the bare necessities to try to help users find what they need immediately.


Once users cloned the code repo, made a change, and made the first code commit, the prototype provides additional guidance.

In user testing this prototype, we observed large improvements in users understanding what to do by giving feedback when actions were completed successfully, suggesting next step(s), and then making it obvious how to take those next steps.

Prototype 2 - "What do you want to do?"

We learned from the research that users will try Pantheon to improve specific workflow problems. This prototype more proactively communicates how Pantheon can help with those problems by asking users what they came to Pantheon to do, and prompting them to start with an activity that will move them towards that goal.

In the current experience after creating an account, users are landed on their home screen. Many users do find there way to an action from here but there's no real guidance and no highlighting of valuable actions they may want to try first, which is a missed opportunity to hook users right away.


This prototype introduces a new screen shown to new users immediately after registration. We suggest actions that we learned are most common that users do. Using users' own reasons, we also highlight the benefits of using Pantheon in the description text. If users aren't sure what to do, we use social proof at the bottom to inform them what most developers do first, to help them decide.

During user testing, this prototype resonated with users because it is upfront about how the product can  address workflow challenges, coupled with an action they can take right now to move them towards that desired future state.

Prototype Test Learnings:

  • Moments that communicate how Pantheon solves problems resonated for new users.
  • Connecting actions together in user flows helped new users start an activity and follow it through.
  • When new users weren’t told what to do next, they got stuck.

Product Changes

From the prototype and research learnings, we synthesized our approach to implementing product improvements:

To increase return rate in Week 0, we should communicate to new users how Pantheon can solve current workflow challenges, and follow through by prompting action so users can make progress towards the problem(s) they want solved.

Welcome Screen

New design: The 2nd prototype evolved into a new Welcome screen experience, highlighting benefits of using Pantheon to improve workflows and prompting an action to take.


New design: If users decide to start a new project, they will need to choose their site CMS. We updated this text to be tailored to why it's better to use each CMS on Pantheon. For example, WordPress users are less likely to have experience with version control even though they know it's a good practice - they can quickly realize a benefit of Pantheon through our built-in version control.

Empty states

To teach users when and how to use each development environment, we updated the starting empty states to be more concise and focus on the benefit to the user.

Old design: The Dev environment empty state doesn't help the user understand what to do.


New design: a more clear empty state along with guidance on how to start developing by first installing WordPress

The Test and Live environments follow the same design so that they all look like parts of the same whole. They also got a copy update to better convey when and how to use each environment.

Clone the site code

And now the user likely wants to clone the repo with git or connect to it via SFTP.

Old design: this hard to find.


New design. As an A/B test, guided the user through the UI design by using our primary CTA color on the next button they should use and de-cluttering the area around it. 


New design: We implemented dropdown from the prototype test to make it more obvious what to do.

Results for this dropdown test show a 10% improvement for the new design in the number of users who successfully make their first code commit.