There are countless templates for iOS and Android app designs. And it is definitely helpful to take a look at them and read some user tests before starting on your own app. But a good design is not the only thing that will guarantee your app’s success. Here are some tips and tricks which will save you valuable time, money and sanity in the long run.
The first step will come as a surprise to absolutely noone – the first and most important thing is to define the aim of your app. What purpose should it serve for your company? Possible goals are gaining or retaining customers, introducing a new product, solidifying your company image, generating new leads and so on. If you’re not entirely clear on your goal, you’re in danger of wanting to fit too many different functions and types of information into the app. Of course, there are apps which unite many different functions and serve multiple purposes – which is the case, for example, when an app is used as a company presentation. But, importantly, the purpose is clear and determines a segmentation of the contents which is understandable for the user.
That’s a neat segue to my second point – focusing on the user. Because it is just as important to think about what purpose the app will serve for its users. Does it solve a problem for them or does it offer additional service or comfort? These deliberations not only determine the thematic structure of your app, they also influence how you talk about and market it. If your customers don’t immediately know what the use of your app is and how it will benefit them, they won’t even bother downloading it.
The Target Group
Here, you continue focusing on the user. Who (age, sex, customer group, …) will be the main users of your app? Where (at home, on the go) and under which circumstances (bad internet connection, bad lighting) will they be using it? These questions may seem unimportant or premature, but when developing an app, there are great benefits in thinking about these things from the very beginning. If your app will exclusively be used outdoors and with a bad or no internet connection, it should probably be fully usable offline (which is by no means guaranteed). If it’s an augmented reality app, the lighting conditions are also important. And, of course, your target group should also influence any design and user interface considerations (to put it differently: your senior business clients will probably not appreciate an app with a neon color scheme where every interaction is triggered through a different touch gesture. Teenagers, on the other hand, might prefer this over a more traditional design).
Equally as important as your target group are the devices they are using. Are your customers iPhone or Android users – or both? Does the app’s functionality necessitate a large screen, or is there any other reason why it might be better to make it exclusively available on tablets? Deciding on a device group or operating system is important, because very large, complicated or specialized apps often have to be developed independently for iOS and Android. If only one of the two platforms is needed, it will save on cost. On the other hand, many more standard apps can be developed with so-called hybrid development methods (only one app for both platforms), which might enable you to support a second operating system when you might otherwise only have budgeted one. (Due to the relatively low market penetration of Windows phones, choosing this as a third OS is usually not even a question – but yes, if you really do need a Windows app, it is, of course, possible.) Also, there should ideally be two separate designs for smartphones and tablets, so that the content can be optimally presented (size, arrangement of menu items, …).
Of course, you can only start to actually distribute your app once it’s finished. But you should start thinking about it right about now. Will the app be generally available for download via the AppStore and/or Google PlayStore? Or is it an app that will exclusively be used by your staff? If it’s the latter, there are various possibilities of handling the app’s distribution which can impact the development. You can, for instance, pre-install it on selected devices or share it with your team via a download link. This will likely not impact development at all, except that it gives you more freedom concerning the app’s size (i.e. how much of your device’s memory it will take up). However, there is also the possibility of distributing the app through the stores regardless and adding a login functionality to it. This way, your staff can use the app’s full range of functions and any customers that download it can e.g. get access to information about your company or your latest image or product video.
Sure, the content will largely be determined by points 1 to 3. But I’m noting it as a separate point here, because now should really be the point at which your entire content as well as its segmentation and presentation in the app should be finally determined. Any changes during the development phase will likely be more complex and cost more time and money than you might think. After all, such changes need to be communicated, agreed on and planned. And that’s not all – seemingly small changes to the content or its arrangement can severely impact the user interface design and the app’s functionality, which might possibly entail a whole string of consequences. This, in turn, will influence the scope of the project and the time needed to complete it (and thus also the cost).
However, we also know that there’s no way of making entirely sure that there won’t be any changes. Which is why we work with so-called agile software development methods, where any changes can be requested and planned at certain defined points in time. An impact on the project’s deadline might sometimes still be unavoidable, though. Why is that important? Because knowing how your developers work, will help you as well – but I’m coming to that in point 8.
Now that you know the content of your app, you can contemplate it’s usability. One important factor (which some might not consider) is the app’s size. For consumer apps distributed through the official stores, that is definitely an issue. After all, you probably wouldn’t want to download an app which comes with 100 megabytes of data or more, no matter how useful or cool it might be. In order for such large apps to be user-friendly, you might need additional functions or infrastructure such as a content management system (so you can dynamically change the contents) or the so-called loading on demand (where large pieces of content are not saved inside the app, but loaded from the server when needed).
Further, it is now time to settle on a design for your app and to make sure it is user-friendly as well. Depending on the scale and purpose of your app, it might make sense to create mockups (usually drawings of the individual screens or menu items) or a clickdummy (simulated user interface to test the user path). In any case, it’s the time to get as much feedback from as many different people (ideally within your target group) as possible and to change the user interface and structure, if necessary.
Only now should you send your finished concept to various developers for a quote. And just as a tip, when assessing the various offers, you should not only compare prices and deadlines, but also the quality and service offered. This might be hard, if you don’t know anything about app development or technology – how are you supposed to judge? Well, one important thing is to make sure that all offers are based on the same specifications and then you should critically question everything. I really do mean that – I’ve seen people (unwittingly) compare apples to oranges here.
Some helpful questions to ask (yourself): Is everything you asked for included in the quoted price? Is it native (platform-specific) or hybrid development that’s offered? Will the app be developed from scratch according to my specific needs or do you use a pre-existing framework? What does the development process look like and how flexibly can you accommodate change requests? Is the project schedule realistic? Are there enough capacities to compensate for unplanned absences or unforeseen changes? And lastly: with which of these companies do I communicate best (because there will always be some measure of communication needed during the project)? When these questions are clear and you have chosen the best development partner for your project, you are ready to take the next step.
Only now, after thinking about all the previous points, should the development of your app start. Why? Because unspecified requirements are certain to cause many, many changes during development (which, as we have established, are not ideal), effecting an increase of cost, time and frustration on both sides. As previously mentioned, even seemingly innocuous or hardly noticeable changes can mean a lot of additional programming work. I mean, we love developing, but we really hate it when we produce code that ends up being completely useless because of unplanned changes or unclear specifications. And more importantly, we also prefer happy customers over frustrated ones.
Ok so your app was successfully developed and can freely be downloaded by everyone. So you’re done, right? Not quite. In order to avoid the feeling that you’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money on nothing, it’s probably quite helpful if people actually use the app so it can fulfil its planned purpose (see point 1). However, if people don’t know about the app, that’s going to be tricky – obviously. Unfortunately, marketing the app is often neglected, even though some mentions on your website, in your social media channels and (if it exists) in your newsletter would probably lay the foundation for an ever growing user base.
Even if you don’t actively want to promote your app (because of reasons), there are some things you can do to make sure it can be more easily found in the app stores. Read Mathis’ blog from a few weeks ago to get some pointers on that.
Now, if you want to create an app for your company, but you’re still a bit unsure of where to start, we might be able to help. Just get in touch and ask about our ‘technology workshop’, the goal of which is to jointly talk about points 1 to 8 and create the necessary specifications.