And with the wide diversity available on the market, it should be easy for any brand to carve out their niche. I mean, how often do you think “there should be an app for that?” Sounds easy enough but there are a few things you should know before you dive into the world of app development. Learn some of the ins and outs of bringing your idea to life with this guide!
Do you have the next billion-dollar app idea? A lot of people think they do but having a great idea is just the start. You might be wondering, “What do I do next?” “How do I even develop an app!?” Don’t worry you’re not alone and we’re here to help. There are a lot of steps involved in bringing that idea to life. Before reaching out to designers, developers or even investors there are a few things you need to do. In this three-part guide, we’ll break down some of these essential steps for you to help get you started.
There are over 5 million apps available across iOS and Android and knowing what makes your app unique is the best way to stand out from the crowd. When getting started it’s crucial to define what your app does at its core, otherwise known as your value proposition. A value proposition highlights the benefits your app promises to deliver to users. It tells people what your app does and why they should download it instead of any others.
There’s no right or wrong way to determine your value proposition. And there’s a number of different frameworks you can follow when setting yours up. However, a good value proposition answers these fundamental questions:
Questions to help you get started:
Who is your target user?
What problem do they need solved?
How is your app the solution to their problem?
Use one of these templates to get you started
Regardless of which framework you use, your value proposition should be one of the first things your users see once you begin marketing your app. That means it should be a core part of your messaging on your website. And that messaging should be constantly reinforced throughout the customer journey across all our digital touchpoints.
It’s important to understand who will be using your product (your target user is part of your value proposition after all). Potential users can be broken down in a number of ways but at the most basic level this means user demographics. Things like age, gender, geographic location, profession, etc. From there you can elaborate on the details and answer questions like:
The research phase is often underestimated, yet probably one of the most essential steps in the process. Many people rush or skip this to cut time and costs, but the insights found here lay the groundwork for everything moving forward. You’ll likely find issues with your end product if you have a shaky foundation.
The goal is to discover insights into the user psyche and how potential users may react to or use your product, then develop a strategy that combines these insights with your business objectives. That’s a mouthful. In a nutshell, this is about “understanding” the product and how it will be used and making educated assumptions about what users will find valuable. There are several different ways to uncover valuable insights. We recommend starting with market research to assess whether your idea for a mobile app is viable and to help define what will set your brand apart from competitors.
A few techniques to get you started include:
User research focuses on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations through a number of different feedback methodologies. There’s a longgg list of methodologies you can use as part of your research that includes techniques such as surveys, user interviews, journey mapping, card sorting, and more. These different methodologies are used to help you better define the user experience of your mobile app. User research is divided into two categories:
Qualitative research is descriptive. It gives us deeper insight into behaviors and non-numerical data. This type of data helps us understand why, how and what in regards to human behavior. This type of research involves observation and includes methodologies such as user interviews, user testing, focus groups, etc.
Quantitative research is focused on data and statistics. It is number-based research that gathers and looks at data sets to tell us how many, how much or how often calculations. Within this type of research you’ll often be looking at analytics tools (like Google Analytics) or doing your own data collection through surveys.
A feature set is a high-level explanation of the functionalities you want to include in an app. And defining the functionalities of your app is the next step in flushing out your concept. Do you want to create a platform that connects User A and User B, two untapped demographics? Great, but that’s not enough.
Can users sign in using Facebook? Will they be able to message each other? Search for other friends? Write down everything that comes to mind. This can be as simple as a list of bullet points or as complicated as sketching your vision. The more detail you can provide, the easier it will be for others to understand your overall concept.
When writing down your features, always keep your initial idea in mind. Everything you list should support your core concept; otherwise, you risk diluting the app. Keep it simple and think of the “must-haves.” Getting too feature-heavy is a common mistake many make with their initial feature sets. We highly recommend starting with an MVP.
Products fail for a multitude of reasons. One of the most common problems we see is that new products can suffer from something called "featuritis." Featuritis is when a product does a lot of things poorly instead of doing the one thing they're supposed to do well.
Your app has too many features, and users don't know what to do with it.
When you're entering the market with a new business idea, we recommend starting with an MVP or "minimum viable product." The philosophy behind an MVP is simple — get something to market as quickly as possible, acquire users and iterate based on user feedback rather than assumptions. The challenge with an MVP is streamlining your feature set to provide just enough features for validated learning and continued iteration. Too many features and you run into unnecessary extensions on development time. Too little, and the core functionality of your app might be lost. The advantage, of course, is getting to market quicker. Many well-known companies started with an MVP, and many others could benefit from this methodology when starting a development project.
Everything you've done thus far is meant to bring you closer to a viable product idea. But one of product design's fundamental tenets is keeping the user first. As advocates and experts in user-centric design, we believe in getting user feedback as early as possible to help better shape digital recommendations and avoid faulty assumptions.
Before you move further, now would be an excellent time to get users involved. Getting feedback on the work you've already done at an earlier stage allows you to quickly pivot and update your concept. You can do this in several different ways.
You know what they say, "sharing is caring." Sharing your potential feature set with people is a quick and easy way to see if your concept has any clout. By talking through your initial ideas, you'll immediately see whether the features you've identified make sense, specific use cases for your app, if people will even use your app, etc.
For a slightly more formalized approach, you can create a survey that can quickly be sent out to your target audience and personal network. It can be as simple as sharing your feature set to gather candid feedback or a little more involved, where you identify specific questions that reveal more insight into your initial concept and target audience.
Creating a landing page (aka single-page website) is a great way to test the waters of your app idea. Your landing page can include a description of your app (your value proposition), a mock-up, and a contact or email subscription form. While you may not have a physical product to share, marketing your idea early can help you gauge interest in the market while also building an email list.
So you finalized your feature set. You have fantastic feedback from potential users. Now what? It's time to build your app!
There are three main ways you can move forward from here:
You can build a team if you're an entrepreneur with a technical background. Hiring designers and developers means you'll have the total commitment of your employees. This option does require the time and know-how to lead your team members through the design process. It's a costly option but adequate for small to medium-sized businesses.
Freelancers are a great way to hire specialists for a considerably lower cost. This may be the way to go if you're working with a minimal budget. An advantage of working with freelancers is the contractual nature of your agreement (e.g., you don't have to worry about HR things). However, you get what you pay for, and being cheap can be your downfall. While short-term contractual freelancers might get you off the ground fast, it's often harder to scale after release.
Working with an agency combines the best of both worlds. A digital studio gives you immediate access to a team of specialists that have already been vetted and work well together. And there's no need to worry about the hiring process and all that HR stuff. Additionally, working with an agency is contractual, allowing you to set the parameters of your working relationship. And the best part – it's completely scalable. If you've chosen the right partner to work with, you should be able to quickly expand (or decrease) the size of your team based on how fast your product grows.
While it sounds appealing to pay less to get to market quicker, that often means corners are being cut. Investing in the right partnership upfront means you'll build your product right the first time and set yourself up for scalable growth. When you work with a respected vendor that's the right fit, you can leave these concerns behind and focus on building a partnership.
In the last chapter we went over the steps you should take to lay the groundwork for your mobile app concept. We know – it was A LOT of research and documentation. Moving forward from there can be both an exciting yet daunting transition. But don’t worry. We’ve got your back. In this chapter we’ll dive into the multistep process of developing your app. We break down this process into the following phases: Wireframing, Design, Prototyping, Development, QA, and Deployment & Maintenance.
Feeling overwhelmed? Let an agency handle the heavy lifting of research, discovery, and strategy for you! We’re here to help 😉
Let’s take a look at each phase.
For those of you anxious to see the fruits of your labor, this is where things start coming together. Wireframes are the initial visualization of your product. They allow us to grasp functionality, user flow and content layout in a black and white representation. These are not designs but blueprints that define screen structure and hierarchy for all of the different elements.
A common misconception with wireframes is that they show you what an application will look like. While that’s not entirely false, the main goal of wireframing is to demonstrate how your product will function. Wireframing is the best phase to optimize your user experience, flush out your feature set as well as make functionality considerations. It’s typical to see wireframes represented through shapes, boxes, lines and other placeholder elements that allow you to begin seeing a visual presentation of your application concept. Those low-fidelity visual elements are easier to manipulate and keep the focus on requirements and functionality over visual design. It’s common for wireframes to make use of grayscale only for this reason.
If you’ve done your research, rely on your documentation to help you understand user flows that need to be defined, content needs, core functionality, etc. But in truth, every project has different requirements, so it’s not always a one-size-fits-all process. At the bare minimum, your wireframe should address and include the following:
But it’s not only about how your product looks but also how it behaves. It considers all the different elements of an interface and how they work together. That includes:
UI design comes with its own set of challenges. This includes legibility (is your type selection legible, does your color palette resonate with the tone of your app, etc.) and intuitiveness (is the functionality of design elements clear, does that graphic look clickable when it shouldn’t be, etc.) It’s crucial to follow general UI design principles when designing your product.
While wireframes focus on the overall flow of the app and functionality, the design focuses on optimizing ease of use through visual design and making the different functionalities feel intuitive and precise. User interface (UI) design is all about the aesthetics of your app — the look, feel, and interactivity of your digital product. Simply put, it’s a high-fidelity design of your app.
The most well-known design principles for UI and interaction designers are Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics. Based on years of experience in the field of usability engineering, these principles are now considered the standard rule of thumb for interaction design. They can help save development teams considerable time during early usability testing so that they can direct their attention to more complex design challenges.
As you begin the design process, we highly recommend building a component library as you go. A component library is one of the building blocks of a design system — also called a UI kit, a UI library, or a UI component library. It’s a collection of the UI elements you use within your design, including buttons, menus, typography and other visual elements. Shared component libraries serve as digital storage spaces for these design elements, allowing them to be used and reused as needed.
An added benefit of component libraries is that they act as the single source of truth for your mobile app design. For instance, if you need to change the color of all your buttons, you can make that change from your library. And it will be implemented across your entire design instead of manually making that update from screen to screen.
A prototype is an interactive mockup of your mobile app. It simulates core functionality and user journeys without any working code or the need for a finished design.
The prototyping process used to be an optional step in app development, but now it's a critical element to the success of your product. It helps reveal real-world insights that you're unlikely to uncover in research or through your assumptions. A prototype is a great way to gather early feedback on your app's user experience and validate your functionality.
There are three types of prototypes that you can implement at different stages of the process:
As the name suggests, a paper prototype utilizes hand-sketch screens representing your mobile app. They're implemented much earlier in the process (e.g., during discovery) to test high-level functionality and user experience instead of interaction design.
Wireframes can be linked together to create a low-fidelity prototype. Low-fidelity prototypes are a great way to turn your design ideas into a tangible experience that can be tested quickly.
The most time-intensive and involved prototype is the high-fidelity prototype. These are built at later stages of the design process and simulate your final product as closely as possible. As they often use actual design assets, high-fidelity prototypes are used when you need to test with real users or get final approval from stakeholders.
Your app looks great, but now it needs to function. It's time to transition design over to your development team, who will step in to piece everything together. Your product will go from flat designs to a functioning app in this phase. Depending on the feature set, development teams can vary in size. Generally, there are two main types of developers involved in writing code.
Front End Developers focus on building an interface modeled after your design. They're responsible for the "front end" (the portion of your app that users interact with) and ensuring all of the data, content and visual elements display correctly.
Back-end developers focus on building a server layer from which the app can communicate with and retrieve data. The server is where the core computational logic of your product will live and where all your data is stored. The back end enables the user-facing front end to function and exist.
Because of the time commitment involved in programming the different components of your app, development can be lengthy. It can be expedited by having multiple developers placed on a project. Once you have your team assembled you can begin the actual programming of your mobile app.
Quality assurance (QA) in software development refers to the process of verifying that a product, service, or system meets specified requirements and is fit for its intended purpose. It is an ongoing process that involves reviewing, testing, and verifying the quality of a product or service at various stages of development to ensure that it meets the desired level of quality.
Translation: time to use the app.
This phase is essential to ensure your release product is as bug-free as possible. Much like the discovery & strategy phase, QA is often skipped to get to market quicker, which can be more detrimental to the success of your product. The better tested your app is, the better experience your users will have.
QA Activities can include:
Reviewing requirements and design documents to ensure that they are clear, complete, and correct
Developing and executing test cases and plans to verify that the product or service functions as intended
Identifying and reporting defects and issues found during testing
Verifying that the product or service is fit for its intended use and meets the needs of its users
Collaborating with developers to resolve defects and improve the quality of the product or service
QA is an integral part of the software development process because it helps to ensure that the product or service meets the required level of quality and is fit for its intended purpose. It can also help to identify and resolve issues early in the development process, which can save time and resources and improve the overall quality of the product or service.
You thought you'd never get there.
In simplest terms, deployment is the process that makes your application and its components available to end users. It involves releasing the app to users and ensuring it functions properly over time. Here are some general steps that may be involved in the deployment and maintenance phase:
Once your mobile app is complete and has been tested, you'll need to deploy it to users. This may involve uploading the app package to app stores like the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store or distributing it through other channels.
To support your app, you'll need to set up the necessary infrastructure. This may involve configuring servers and other infrastructure to host your app, setting up monitoring and logging tools to track performance, and creating a deployment process to ensure that updates and new releases are deployed smoothly.
Even after your app is released, you'll need to monitor its performance and maintain it to ensure it continues functioning properly. This may involve monitoring user feedback and app usage data, fixing any issues or bugs identified, and releasing updates to improve the app's performance and functionality.
As you gather data on your app's usage and performance, you should continually use this information to improve the app. This may involve adding new features, optimizing existing features, and making other enhancements to the app to meet the evolving needs of your users.
To ensure that your app is secure and compliant with any relevant regulations, you'll need to regularly assess and update your app's security measures and comply with applicable laws or industry standards.
Congratulations! Your app is finally live and it's time to celebrate! But before you start popping that champagne, remember that the real work is just getting started. With over 5 million apps in both Apple and Android app stores, standing out in the crowd requires continuous effort and attention. Following the launch of your app, here are some things you should do to ensure your app is successful against the vastly expanded app market.
Marketing your new mobile app is crucial to its success in the ever-growing and competitive market. To stand out and captivate your target audience, here are some strategies you can use to take your app to the next level:
Consider partnering with relevant influencers to your target audience to spread the word about your app. Influencers have large followings that can help you reach a wider audience, giving your app a boost. Choose influencers who are passionate about your app and align with your target audience to maximize results.
Connect with your current email list and let them know about your new app. Offer them a sneak peek before it's publicly available and build excitement for the launch. You can also target your email campaigns to people interested in apps similar to yours to reach a wider audience.
Encourage users to spread the word about your app by offering incentives, such as discounts or special features. Reward users for leaving positive reviews or sharing your app with their friends. This helps you increase your reach and creates a community of loyal users who will continue to support your app.
Give users a taste of your app with a free trial and watch as they become hooked. Offer a limited version of your app for free, and then entice users to upgrade to the full version with exclusive features and benefits.
Marketing your new mobile app is an ongoing journey, and it's important to be creative, flexible, and always open to trying new strategies. By combining these marketing strategies, you can reach your target audience, promote your app, and ensure its success.
App Store Optimization (ASO) is a form of organic marketing that helps your mobile app stand out and reach a wider audience. ASO is essential for new and upcoming apps to make their mark. Optimizing your app's metadata, such as the title, description, and keywords can improve its visibility and ranking in the app store. Make sure your app's name is unique and descriptive, and use those targeted keywords in the description to make it easier for potential users to find your app.
Think of ASO as a digital treasure hunt – the goal is to uncover the best strategies to rank higher on search results and attract users organically. By implementing the best practices of ASO, you can increase your conversion rate and watch your app soar to the top of the charts.
Analytics provide quantitative insight into how users are using your application. Analytics will help reveal things like your most habitual users, how often particular features are used, which features are not used, etc. You may even discover that your users are not using the app the same way you do or how you had envisioned. This can be frustrating but essential in knowing how to pivot your feature set and iterate.
It's crucial to pick the most appropriate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). For instance, an e-commerce app would be more concerned with purchase conversion. In contrast, a social platform could be more concerned with user retention. Define analytics early and strategically to align with your app's core offerings properly.
Listening to your app users is critical to success after launch. It provides valuable insights into the needs and expectations of your end users, allowing your developers to make necessary improvements and modifications to create a more user-friendly and enjoyable experience.
Gathering feedback early and often is crucial when considering how to improve your app post-launch. This can be done through various methods, including in-app surveys, focus groups, and online forums. Listening to users' opinions on the functionality, design, and performance can help app developers identify any pain points, bugs or glitches and work to resolve them. And addressing reported issues promptly helps maximize customer satisfaction and keeps your users returning for more.
In today's app market, standing still means falling behind. Making updates and pushing new releases is essential to keep your app relevant and ahead of the competition. Updates not only keep your app alive, but it also shows users that you're dedicated to improving and evolving their experience. By adding new and exciting features, you can attract new potential users and retain current ones.
In addition to new features, improving your app's user interface (UI) is something to consider. A well-designed UI can make or break a user's experience with an app. By regularly refining your app's UI over time, you can create a more intuitive and user-friendly experience that will encourage more downloads and positive reviews.
Another benefit of regularly updating your app is improved app store search ranking, which makes it easier for users to discover your app. The more frequently you update your app, the more the app store algorithms will recognize your app as active and relevant, boosting your visibility and increasing your chances of being discovered by potential users.
Pushing continuous updates is a must for any app looking to succeed in today's market.
Monetizing a mobile app can be a challenging task. But it's worth considering as you continue growing and scaling your user base. Here are some strategies you can use to monetize and help create a more profitable app:
Offer users the ability to buy virtual goods or unlock premium features within the app. This can be a great way to generate additional revenue without adding any advertising.
Integrating targeted advertisements into your app can be a way to earn money from your app. You can choose from various ad networks, including display ads, interstitial ads, and rewarded video ads.
Offer users a monthly or annual subscription to access premium content or features. This is a great way to generate recurring revenue and build a loyal user base.
Offer a free version of your app with limited features and give users the option to upgrade to a premium version with additional features.
Partner with other businesses and earn a commission for every sale made through your app. This can be a great way to monetize an app with a large user base.
If your app has a large and engaged user base, consider selling physical products through the app, such as merchandise or printed materials.
Finding the monetization strategy that works best for your app and your target audience is important. You may need to experiment with different approaches to find the most effective one. Remember, the key to successful monetization is to offer value to your users and make sure they are happy with the products or services you sell.