What can 90s cartoons teach us about good product onboarding?

Ben Davies-Romano
6 min readDec 5, 2022

Every now and then, I remember a random cartoon from those wonderful Saturday mornings growing up and then remember YouTube is a thing, and disappear down a rabbit hole for an hour. From the quirky and niche paper cut-out style of Angela Anaconda to the downright creepy Courage the Cowardly Dog or presumably weed-addled Fat Dog Mendoza (yes, the one about the incredibly obese smart-mouthed dog fighting crime), it’s amazing to see that I can still remember minute details of each episode I find.

But one thing sticks out the most — the opening sequences. Each would often have a song or some sort of voice-over to a compilation lasting a minute or two, long by today’s standards, explaining the full concept of the cartoon, meaning that whether you’re an avid fan or a newcomer, you start each non-sequential episode with the same background.

This made me think wow, these cartoons sure are doing a good job of onboarding their viewers in a smooth way. Part of me is horrified that my adult career seriously led to me having this thought and ruining my childhood cartoons. Part of me decided to explore this further.

So, let’s see what inspiration we can take from a couple of these cartoons when it comes to designing a good product (or cartoon) onboarding…

Keep it concise

with Pinky and the Brain

Gee Brain, what do you wanna do tonight?

The same thing we do every night, Pinky, try to take over the world.

And there you have it, in the opening two lines, you have the plot of pretty much every episode explained, upfront. If you’ve never watched Pinky and the Brain, sorry for the spoiler. Now that we’ve got the basics of the plot out of the way, we can enjoy whatever weird and wonderful route the rats take to get there.

Additionally, these opening two lines tell us the characters’ names, so we know who is Pinky, who is Brain, and importantly, what they both sound…

Ben Davies-Romano

UX, Product, Marketing and all spaces in between | UX Lead at Klarna | Co-founder of Tech Outcasts (www.techoutcasts.com) | ☕️ and 🏳️‍🌈