Did the thought of creating your own app cross your mind? Whether you’re a programming novice looking to bring a big idea to life or a business owner who recognizes the necessity of having a user-facing interface, everyone must start at the same place.
We aren’t going to coddle you. Making an app is a difficult task, but a little planning can go a long way towards ensuring your success.
If you’re looking to build your app, there are three steps to consider, and we’re here to help you untangle the process.
1. Step One: Ideation and Design
One of the biggest mistakes that inexperienced developers or managers make is to jump right into the development process without a blueprint. App creation is just the first phase in making sure you have an app that’s ready for market.
Ideation is the first important step and breathes life into your app. You may have an idea of the type of app you want to create, but you’re still going to have to think hard about:
- What features you want to include
- What features can justifiably fit into your budget
- What your app does that separates it from other entries in the market.
So, let’s find the market first.
How to Find Your Market and Why It’s Important
Before you can imagine all the possible features for your market, you must find and know your market.
Let’s go over this with an example: Imagine your target marketplace is dating apps. While there are countless different options available, the successful ones got there by consciously developing a niche.
- Some apps, like Farmers Only or Christian Mingle, manage to find success by identifying a specific demographic audience, and that gives them the opportunity to essentially follow the blueprints established by other apps on the market.
- Others distinguish themselves by finding an element of the user experience that distinguishes them from the competition and unifies a core feature or set of features with the unique identity of the app.
When Tinder was first introduced, the simple UX tactility of swiping said something about their modus operandi. The minimalist interface that facilitated quick swiping and put the emphasis on quick glances at picture galleries was indicative of the hookup culture that Tinder was targeting. It’s a model that’s become ubiquitous in apps of varying types.
It’s also a model that Bumble built on with their own unique design. Recognizing the sort of harassment that women dealt with on a regular basis, they created a double-blind system where women must initiate the first message and a 24-reply window is implemented.
Bumble’s success is a case study in how to effectively run the ideation process for an existing market. Learn from your competitors, identify a unique audience you can cater your app to, and develop a creative solution to an existing flaw in the competition’s inherent design.
Both are a far cry from OKCupid which exists as a more exhaustive social media platform. While the comprehensive questionnaire system remains the core framework of OKCupid’s design, they have continued to aggressively develop their platform to accommodate profiles that are dense with information.
It’s a polar opposite approach to the minimalist design of Tinder and Bumble, but all three retain healthy positions in the dating app ecosystem.
Managing Your Scale
Feature creep is one of the most persistent threats facing app developers, and it’s easy to lose track of all the work that will need to be done.
The business side of the development process is harsh for everyone involved: Even the most well-funded app is going to be limited by financial and time constraints.
That’s why it’s important that you establish the core features that need to be developed long before the actual development process starts.
A good designer can help with this. They understand the need for intuitive onboarding and clean design sensibilities, and the process of sketching out an app structure that’s user-friendly will set some natural boundaries for what can reasonably be accomplished.
But it’s also important to have developers involved in this process.
A good head for design doesn’t naturally translate into an understanding of the coding process, and that’s why it’s important to have people with the right technical knowledge to let you understand what can be accomplished and how much effort it will require.
The devil is in the details, and that’s why it can be beneficial to outline exactly what needs to be achieved and establish clear and concrete milestones and timelines.
Scrutinize your competition at this point. They set the standard for what users expect, and they establish the sort of quality of life features that can make or break your app.
For instance, geolocation features, filtering options for potential matches, and a one-button solution for reporting abuse are now considered the bare essentials. Most modern dating apps also allow users to easily integrate their various social media platforms.
Sitting down with your coders and identifying the best route to accomplishing these goals will make things go much more smoothly once you transition into active development.
2. Step Two: Development and Testing
If you’re committed to taking the development process seriously, you absolutely want to start things off on the right foot. By the end of the design process, you should have a solid wireframe in place. These can be turned into an actionable interface that you can send to prospective users to get feedback. But once you’ve settled on a core design, the real labor begins.
Initiating the Kick-Off
An app development team is a complex organism, and if everyone doesn’t know their designated roles, you’re going to face redundancies and incompatible components.
You’ll want to not just outline the entirety of the development process, but you’ll also want to break them down into “sprints”, or easily digestible components that can serve as developmental milestones.
You’ll also want to create a toolset that can keep things organized throughout the entire process. At the bare minimum, this will include:
- Communications. Slack is the recognized standard on this front because it allows you to organize your team into discrete groups that overlap organically. These Slack channels can be adjusted accordingly as the project develops.
- Collaboration. You’ll have multiple teams working on parallel components at the same time, and that’s why it’s important to make sure that there’s strong integration between these teams. You’ll absolutely want to set up a repository of code that’s cloud based. GitHub is the most likely option here. A wiki that allows developers to track version history and changes can also be an incredibly useful resource here.
- Management. Things never go quite as you expected them to in the development process, but that’s why it’s especially important to track each of the sprints in real time. That can help you identify problems before they become crises, adjust your milestones, and switch around team members as necessary. Jira is one of the better options here as it allows you to analyze not just your labor and costs but to also create detailed progress reports and adjust responsibilities on the fly.
- Tech Stack. Determining what frameworks, libraries, and software development kits are going to be necessary is one of the most important parts of early development, and that’s why it’s crucial to establish them before the project ever gets off the ground. The right tech stack can make a world of difference in how successful your app ends up being.
Testing the App
App testing isn’t something that simply happens at the end of development. It’s an exhaustive and ongoing process that you must pursue diligently.
Identifying potential problems early will ensure that they don’t snowball as you start adding new features and components to the app. You’ll want to internally test and debug the app after every major milestone.
Once you have your core app in place, it’s time to enter it into beta testing.
This is a crucial period because it doesn’t just help you identify bugs in the system. It helps you see how well your app connects with users.
While the core work of developing your app may be done at this point, you absolutely need to make sure you have adequate staff on hand to deal with quality assurance.
Early input from the beta testers are going to have a major effect on the public’s attitudes towards your app once it enters into wide release, so you need to make sure you have the infrastructure in place to easily process user complaints and the staff on hand to address issues as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
It’s possible that even if everything is working as planned, some aspect of the UI or UX simply won’t click with users, and you’ll have to do some major rehab on the very structure of the app.
Step Three: Post-Release Management
A modern app isn’t a product. It’s a service. In the same way that your app will hopefully revolutionize the ecosystem you’re entering, more apps are going to come along after you with new ideas that put your market dominance at risk.
A good idea is a good idea, and you should never be too proud to integrate another app’s smart evolutions into your own design.
Bulking Up Your Feature Set
Chances are that the early design and development process left you with a whole raft of features that you simply couldn’t logistically fit into the initial release schedule. Now is the time to start looking at the expansion potential of these options.
First, you want to make sure that the process is organic.
Are these new features aligned with the core functionality of your app? Do they align with the feedback you’ve been receiving from your users?
You must think about the long-term livelihood of your app, and knowledge is power in this regard.
Metric gathering tools built into your app can be incredibly useful here.
How are users engaging with your touchpoints? What demographics are using your app and at what times? Are there features that are used more or less than what you were expecting from the outset?
Growing with Your Base
It’s rare that the app you design will connect with customers in exactly the way you intended, and that’s why it’s important to not be beholden to your initial vision for a project. A good app is a living organism, and it will grow and adapt to the needs of your users.
This is the time where you need to be asking yourself where you see your app being in the next five, ten, or twenty years.
While Bumble may have started out primarily as a dating app, it’s since split off into three distinct channels. The initial dating service was split off into Bumble Date, while Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz were developed to help people make new friends and professionally network. Uber may have started as a luxury car service, but their core model has since shifted to more affordable ride share taxi services, and they’ve since expanded their portfolio to include food delivery as well.
What both use cases have in common is that they build smartly from the existing model.
Bumble was able to take what’s essentially the exact same infrastructure and apply it to different needs.
Uber’s expansion into new markets may have been a bit more dramatic, but they didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. The core routing and communications systems that they use for classic Uber and Uber EATS are fundamentally the same.
What’s important to remember is that app development is as much an art as it is a science. A great idea is a great idea, but the app market develops at such a rapid pace that any software that isn’t willing to adapt is destined to become a footnote.
A lean and focused design process allows you to focus on a single, innovative statement of intent. And as your app matures over time, that singular and simple core will allow it to adapt and expand as the needs of your customers change.
BIO: Heather Redding is a content manager for rent, hailing from Aurora. She loves to geek out writing about wearables, IoT and other hot tech trends. When she finds the time to detach from her keyboard, she enjoys her Kindle library and a hot coffee. Reach out to her on Twitter.