Time to get your Prototype(s) ‘on’

If you missed the second article in this series, no worries! You can catch up here.

By now you should have sketched out your App ideas on paper or a whiteboard, and starting creating the design and technical specifications that your visual designer and developer(s) will need. They will help to fill in any missing blanks that you need.

So now it’s time to consider creating your application. This can be a big task, so it’s best to break it into smaller pieces. And since developing software is not a linear process, it makes sense to start small and grow it from there. This means starting with an App with less features and functionality, but enough to test it with your target audience(s).  Some reference material call this an MVP (minimum viable product), but there are, in fact, multiple versions of a MVP.

Rather than viewing a MVP as a standard process, think of it as being more like a philosophy. The idea behind is to get a much smaller version of the final product out to the market as soon as possible, where changes can be constantly made based on user feedback. Why waste further time on things that may not be essential to the running of the App? Once again, the developer (and possibly, the designer, depending on the feedback that is received) would be involved in this process.

The first version of your MVP can be as simple as putting up a landing page or small number of page describing your ideas, including some of your more detailed mockups to a targeted and generally private audience. You will have primary goals with MVP #1, including:

  1. To test your ideas on a small group of trusted testers;
  2. To collect ideas from them about whether if/how they would use it;
  3. To get their contact information (name and email address) if you don’t already have it.

The next version of the MVP (MVP#2) will be the no-frills prototype that only solves the key problem, and will have no bell and whistles. It will not look finished. It will not allow the users to do all the expected functions. In short, it will test your ideas and generate considerable conversation to get more feedback from trusted targeted users.

MVP #3 comes later, and will be a presentable product that could be or lead to a beta testing product. Once again, you are collecting information from a (probably larger) trusted audience about how they use the product, and what would make them pay to use it. Remember that having a user pay to use a product is your ultimate goal, and is the ONLY time that you know that you have a viable product.

There are multiple tools and methods for collecting information about your MVP’s, including mouse tracking, heatmaps, and direct observation.

At this point we need to review the difference between what you might think of as testing, and what a product manager and developer think of as testing.

        1. Alpha Testing: early testing that attempts to identify any bugs and problems within the app. This testing is done by the developers near the end of their development phase, but is done before beta testing (as it is not open to the public). You may hear phrases like unit testing, functionality testing and end to end testing – in the end they are all to find and remove bugs, and ensure usability.

        2. Beta Testing: Performed by a number of the app’s ‘real users’. Beta testing relies heavily on user feedback, and is considered as the final test before the app is made completely viable. Google also has resources on Alpha and Beta testing.

If, by reading this article, you have picked up that there is substantial testing during the development process, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back right now. Testing will take a substantial amount of the overall time to deliver a new application.

 

You’ve validated your idea! What’s Next!

If you missed the first article in the series — there’s no need to fret. You can easily catch up here.

This is where you’re currently at.

You have an awesome mobile app idea. Better yet, you’ve validated it by considering these factors:

  • Figured out what problem your app is going to solve.

  • Identified the unique value proposition of your app.

  • Identified and examined your target audience.

  • Scoped out your competitors.

You’ve pitched the app to your family, trusted friends, and even those strangers that you met in the coffee shops and standing at street corners. You’ve checked out your competitors, you know why yours will be better than anyone else’s attempt, and you know exactly who you’re going to market it to.

So now what?

You have come to the point where you now need to decide on the design and technical specs for your app. These are the specifications that you will provide to a designer and developer, who will in turn turn your app into a reality.

Furthermore, your specifications will be presented in a sheet / document that will feature a general overview of your app, a design spec sheet and a technical spec sheet.

1. The General Overview of the App

This section will be presented first in your documents, but you may want to write it after you’ve had a chance to think through the design aspects .

In the general overview you should:

  • Explain all of the definitions, acronyms, and abbreviations that are to be used in the document.

  • Describe the goals of your App.

  • Describe the target audience of your App.

  • List and prioritise the mobile platforms your App is intended to run on.

  • Specify your project’s budget.

  • List major milestones (dates for alpha testing, beta testing, MVP (minimal viable product) creation, prototyping, pre-release to the app store placement etc), the due dates that you have in mind, and the desired timeframe for proof of concept and delivery. We’ll disucss this in a future posting.

2. Sketch out all your thoughts

Let’s start by putting pen to whiteboard.

Break out the product/site into the logical areas and hierarchies.

Draw/create various wireframes and sketches organize where things go on the screen.

How do you visualise your app? What will each ‘page’ look like? Bring your great ideas to life by sketching them and making them tangible. Why? Because this will allow you to lay down some foundations and provide your app with an estimate layout, structure, and ‘look’. It will also help you define your goals.

While you complete a ‘page-by-page’ sketch, think of past apps that you liked. What was so great about them? Are you able to incorporate any of these benefits into your design (e.g., navigation, under experience, layout)?

3. Creating Your Design Specifications

With your sketches fresh in your mind, the next step is to complete the Design Specifications. These are the guidelines for your visual designer and developer which should consider.

Create Mockups

Test the mockups (with user interface) by creating prototypes or experiments.

After the mockups have been vetted, it’s now time to code up the interface – UI Design!

Once the usability of the UI has been honed, create the technical specifications

Visual  Design: This is more than what the app will look like, and what colours you’re intending to use. You should also consider fonts, images, layout, transitions between pages, general and specific functions, as well as icon(s) for the app, any websites that it would be affiliated with, and the content tone/voice that you want for the site.

User Experience (UX) Design: While this could be considered as part of the visual design, a special emphasis should be palced on consider all the ‘pages’ with a focus on how users will navigate through each page. It will help to refer back to your sketches!

If you’re graphically minded, creating a design spec sheet for your app is a task that you could probably tackle yourself.  If not, it’s probably best to let a professional handle it. At the end of the day, this is the experience that he users will be using on a regular basis, so you need to provide the best user experience that you can.

A visual designer will be beneficial for you if:

  • You want your app to stand out from a large crowd (e.g., games and entertainment).

  • You want to convey quality and trust (e.g., finance).

A UI or UX Designer would be beneficial for you if you want an app that :

  • Has complex features and navigations areas.

  • Will be used constantly.

  • Is super easy to use.

  • Needs to perform actions very quickly.

You need to ensure that the designers provide wireframes that take all of this into consideration. Your developers will then code these wireframes and turn your app idea into a reality.

4. Technical Specifications

Many of us aren’t app developers and, while we can learn, it would probably end up eating too much into our precious time. There are questions that need to be answered within a technical spec:

  • On what platform will your app be built? Android, Apple iOS, or both.

  • Do you require push notifications and geolocation services?

  • Will users have to login within your app? And if they do, how are they going to login? Via inputting email details? Via a social media account?

  • Will your users have to create personal profiles? Will this consist of having to enter information about themselves that may be viewed publicly?

  • How are you going to make money from your app? Through up-front costs, in-app purchases, or is it just going to be free?

  • Will your app require your users to review or rate things (e.g., a food delivery or music app)

  • Do you want your app to connect to your website or other social media channels?

  • Are the graphics used in the app going to be stock images, or are they going to be customised (something to also discuss with the designer)?

  • How is the app going to collaborate with the server? Here you need to describe (in detail) the kind of app-server interactions mechanisms and protocols that need to take place.

  • Will data caching for offline work be required?

  • Will there be printing functionality?

  • Do you require compatibility/syncing with e-commerce engines, internal CMS, and any other systems?

Summary

Easy, right? It’s totally understandable if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, most of us have been in the exact same position as you. That’s why it’s so important to have am experienced professionals by your side.

This is the end of the second post on ‘Creating an App’. At this point you should:

  • Be able to complete an app specification document (the general overview, design specifications, and the technical specifications).

  • Collaborate with a friend, family member, or colleague, and use their advice.

  • Be ready to release a prototype of your app.

In the next article, we’ll look a little further into properly establishing an efficient relationship between you and your developer / designer. We’ll look into creating milestones, while also examining User Acceptance Testing, Alpha Testing, Beta Testing, and MVPs. If you have any opinions and thoughts that you want us to include in the upcoming article, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

For those who already created an app, what steps did you follow? What were your hardest obstacles? What advice would you give others? Comment below!

What do I do with an App idea?

This is the first in a series of articles designed to assist startups without a  technical founder, or more experienced business owners with minimal experience in creating an App.

If you’ve got an idea to build an App and get it into the marketplace, and want to get over that point where you can’t figure out what to do next, then this series of articles is for you.  (If you want some pointers on getting your idea, don’t worry. Got you covered). If you don’t want to read all books, and watch the hours and hours of podcasts and online videos about designing and developing Apps, and startup development methodologies and philosophies, keep reading.

So you’ve got the idea — check.

Next on the list — you’re going to approach a mobile app developer and have them build the idea for you. They will need to be fast, honest, hard-working, efficient and ‘get’ your idea.

Easy, right? They’re all just buzzwords after all.

Not exactly. This is one of those rare moment where taking your time is going to be seen as being strategically productive. Stop..  Listen..  and Reflect.

If you want to build a deck, tune your car’s engine, or fly to visit a friend in Europe, you can learn to do these things yourself or hire a qualified person to do it on your behalf.

Weirdly enough, the same can be applied to application development. The market is saturated with apps. There are more than 2.2 million apps available on both the iOS App Store and Google Play store, with over 205 billion apps collectively downloaded from the platforms. With these statistics in mind, there is a high chance that your idea has already been attempted. But that does not mean that you shouldn’t go ahead with it. It helps to know ahead of time how you plan to make money, as this can affect the entire design of the product. Every app creator thinks that they have discovered the next big thing. And maybe they have! If you feel that your idea is completely novel — congratulations. But an app’s success is not solely dependant on it ‘being cool’, but rather on how refined the initial offering actually is.

Scope Out The Competition

Post-inspiration, it’s then time to do something real fun — market research. Reign in that excitement and begin researching all of the competing apps that exist in your proposed field. During this process you’ve got to be honest and examine two factors:

i) How the competitors have solved your problem ?

ii) Whether your app actually has the problem that you think it does (or is it just a non-issue) ?

It wouldn’t hurt to do a SWOT analysis on your competitors at this point. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats): Find out the strengths and weaknesses in their app, their marketing approach; find out what they’re doing well and wrong, the opportunities that their mistakes are providing you with; and most importantly, how can you improve on their existing product.

Do this before you spend and invest any more money into your app endeavours. It becomes part of your product strategy and you’ll thank yourself later.

Once you’ve scoped out your competitors it’s time to examine your target audience. It’s important to talk to your potential customers before you spend money building anything. Why build an app that no-one is ever going to use?! Technology businesses fail because they can’t gather an audience or customers — not because they didn’t have a product. Question and analyse the values and needs of your targeted audience by entering their community and using the following steps to become a part of their conversation:

  • On which social media platform does your targeted audience converge? Reddit? Twitter? What are they saying?

  • On which platform do they voice their complaints and praises? What are they saying?

  • Who are the thought leaders within the community? What are they saying?

  • What are the pain points that your targeted audience is experiencing with your competitors?

The ‘specifications’

And it’s only after all this that you get into the App specification. The prime goal in the beginning is to ensure that you’ve got the great app that your targeted audience will actually want to download — and that its creation is done in a cost-effective manner. Why contact an app developer when you haven’t really stopped and really thought through things? As the quote says; “Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted”.

If you want to dive into your project, make sure that you are diving into areas that will give you the best ROI. Dive right into your idea with great intensity, nitpick it, look at it from different perspectives; why would people want it and share admiration of it to others; what is the app really going to do; how will it specifically be used; how is it going to look; how are you going to get a return on investment for it; who is it for and why would they even find value in it? Keep questioning.

How to feel good about your idea for the price of a coffee

Everything you do in life is sales. So, before you spend even a dime on developing your app; before you work on how it looks, how it functions or who you’re selling it to – make sure it can sell. You’ll want to pitch your friends and family first. Thi si not  a bad start, but be sure to do some guerillia user research too. Think about where prospective users can be found and go there. Pitch it to the person sitting next to you in the coffee shop, and a stranger on the street. You want honest, unbiased feedback.

One comment about getting helpful feedback. By the end of the conversation,  they should be talking more than you. You should be able to pitch it quikcly and concisely, and then listen to their feedback and questions.

This brings us to the end of this article. So far you should have:

  1. Clearly identified the problem that your app is solving.

  2. Clearly identified who your app is targeted to.

  3. Clearly identified your solution in comparison to other existing solutions.

In the next article we’ll look at actually starting to implement your ideas.

And the last thought of the article is that Thomas Edison once said, “Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discourages. That’s not the place to become discouraged.”

DIY Application Development

So you have a great idea for an App? And now you want to build it.

You have two options:

  1. Save money by building it yourself, or at least doing as much as you can within your skills set.
  2. Hiring a qualified person to design and build it for you.

This article introduces the concepts and high level workflow of creating an App, and walks you some of the many concepts and issues to be addressed getting your App onto the market.

1. Validate Your Idea

Before you begin, examine whether you have:
• Clearly identified the value of your app.
• Clearly identified your target audience.
• Clearly identified your solution and its value.

Not sure how?

Find Out More

2. Spec It Out

You need to decide on the design and technical specs of your app. What about the UX and UI design? Which platforms? How will it make you money?

There are so many things to consider. Luckily, I have some detailed guidelines for you.

Read the Guidelines

3. Develop a Prototype & Test it

Prototyping allows you to visually ‘play’ with your ideas and concepts, while providing invaluable feedback. Not sure how to build a prototype?

Ideas on creating a Prototype

4. Build your App

This is where you finally turn your dream into a reality.

 

5. Support your App

The App is ready to go. This is what you need to generate revenue.

Considerations to generating income with your App