Building an app is not just about coding.
When Apple introduced an App Store back in July of 2008, everything we knew about software development changed. Not only did Apple change the industry for developers, it did the same for the user. Today, in 2015, everyone expects that an app solution for their problem exists. Apps are a must for any service, retailer, social media, coffee shop, fashion magazine, etc. — you name it. Apps are not just on the phones, but they are on computers, they are in cars, and your TVs. Apps are easy to use and they let us use the Internet more efficiently. However, when a customer comes to us looking to build an app, they are very surprised about the amount of work that goes into building one…before you even start talking about the layout, or especially coding. Let’s dive in.
Almost everyone has a great idea for an app. You can see the app and functionality in your mind. Most of the time this great app is a combination of multiple apps that exist on the market, but with a twist. Or it is an existing app applied to a new market. Today, it is rare for an app to be a completely new invention.
When there are so many apps around to draw inspiration from, it is only logical to envision the process of building an app with the vision of app screens. If the idea is meant to be as a hobby and is meant to help just the person who thought of it, starting with the screen layout would be the right move. There is no need to think of the revenue, nor customers. As long as you like it and the app fits your needs — success!
However, if you are exploring an opportunity to monetize an idea, and possibly to ditch that 9 to 5 and jump the ship to entrepreneurship, the above mentioned approach will not work. There are many much much more important things to consider beyond what the app will look like.
The first step to building an app for other users is crucial: what is the problem being solved? This question appears to be an easy one, but everything changes when you dive in. The problem needs to be very specific, and very painful. There has to be a customer who is longing for someone to find a solution to this pain. Pain is a function of severity times frequency. One or both of these attributes need to be sufficiently strong to get any kind of attention to your solution. Many startups bite the dust if they improperly identify the problem. On the flip side, many entrepreneurs found their market niche trying to answer this question.
Secondly, get ready to write an essay. Well, not like back in high school. What I mean is be prepared to spend a lot of hours thinking, brainstorming, writing down and defining who that customer is. Just like in the first step, this is harder than many think. The best customer for an early stage app is somebody who is very desperate to solve this pain but is also willing to spend money on the solution. Please, do not confuse a customer and a user. Users use apps, but customers are willing to pay for them. App’s focus needs to be on the customer. Remember, monetization is important.
The last step of this process is implementation.At this point we can start working on wireframes, graphics, colors, UI, etc. However, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have clarity on the first two steps before beginning this stage. Remember, small tweaks to the problem and/or customer portrait will have ripple effects through implementation. Imagine building Uber, but replacing the problem of “taxi cabs are slow and inefficient” with “postal delivery is slow and inefficient’. How does your customer change? How does your problem change?
Apps are not going anywhere. Your 2 year old niece and an older family member are both using apps with speed and efficiency. The apps are numerous, but great apps are more rare. If you put majority of effort into solving problems and defining the customers, the design aspect will lead itself. And once you have everything planned out, the only thing stopping you from making a great app is…well, you.