How to develop an app idea before spending a penny
With more than 130,000 apps released every month, if you’ve got a burning product idea, it’s understandable that you’ll want to get it to market as quickly as possible. But before you hit that ‘submit’ button, take a breath and ask yourself: 'How can I develop my app idea', ‘what is this app for?’. Knowing how to develop is as important as validating your idea to avoid disappointment and waste of time and money.
Clever design and an iconic colour palette will only get you so far, and even an app with the best UI will fall on its face if it's not solving a consumer problem. Recent stats back this up too - with 80-90% of apps abandoned after one use - so it’s a harsh truth that your app really needs to do or give something to your audience for them to stick with it for the long run.
The way to assess whether an app is actually supporting its intended audience is to validate the idea. This process can help prove whether you have an app that’s truly revolutionary, and if it’s reaching the right audience.#
What is idea validation?
At its core, idea validation is about testing your vision; this is the start to answering how you can develop your app idea.
This process collates feedback from lots of different sources, including the intended target audience, to make sure you’re not just working single-mindedly in your bubble. You can use this time to explore the true viability of the idea and test out how a user might respond to different features.
NOTE: Validation even applies to gaming apps such as Candy Crush Saga. Part of the decision behind its design was to be attractive to different demographics who might have previously been put off online gaming.
How to develop an app idea
Make market research count
There are lots of ways to do market research depending on your budget, but to keep the costs down, turn to platforms that are already at your disposal. Explore your industry or the industry you’re looking to expand into and establish exactly who is using the products already on the market. Scouring social media, news stories and forums like Reddit is a great way to find information about users and what they like.
If you have an audience already at your disposal, you could use your mailing list, Instagram or Twitter accounts to create polls asking your current audience what features they’d like to see in your app.
NOTE: Even at this early stage, mood boards are a great way to filter your research visually. Establish what apps or products currently on the market are inspirational to you - perhaps they work well from a features perspective or their branding is excellent - and group examples together so you can see a spread of ideas at a glance.
Create user profiles
With your market research to hand, you can start to create user profiles for your app. These are different types of imagined people who make up your target audience. They can be from the different demographics who’ve posted about your industry online through to the experiences of people local to you such as friends or family.
With this information, try to create different user profiles of your target audience – include details such as profession and day-to-day challenges. Look at why a user might behave in a certain way or be motivated rather than simply their ‘stats’. It’s also worthwhile exploring what users could achieve with your app concept and how you might cater for their secondary needs too.
Getting to understand your users helps you to tailor your app concept to better meet and solve their problems, but be wary of any factors that may cause assumptions within your team. This could include categorising your users by age, ethnicity or gender – these factors don’t actually cause the specific user behaviours.
Understand the app marketplace
One of the best ways to establish how apps are performing is to assess the online marketplace. Google Play and Apple App Stores are packed with information about the apps they host – especially when you consider user reviews and that would give you a lot of hints about how to develop your app idea.
With your key competitors and inspiration noted, get into the detail of their apps by exploring their profiles and reviews. Look at the specific language or phrases that users are posting, how the marketplace categorises their app and what’s charting. You can get some secondary validation by reviewing industry news and seeing how journalists are talking about the apps you’re looking into – for example, is it positive or negative? Do they put them within a specific category?
Overall, this research should give you a good steer about user frustrations, what features you might need to consider to make your app as user friendly as possible, and what are the current trends.
Create a prototype
A prototype is a basic mockup of your future app. They can be as simple as a drawing of the different screens on paper right up to a minimum viable product. However complex you’d like to get, the most important thing is to show the functionality of the app and how a user might move through it.
That’s where interactive prototypes can help. Designed to look and feel like a working app but without the finished details, you can click around and test out how specific features or design structures could behave.
There are lots of free prototyping tools online but we recommend using Figma to map your app interface. In it, you can create an interactive prototype using your branding, colours, typography and other assets you want to include. Once it’s built, you can use the interactive prototype to dig into the details such as what happens when a user clicks a button.
If you have a trusted group of users already in place, you may even want to run a workshop with them to map the customer journey of the app. A customer journey map captures how a user moves naturally through the app with each touchpoint being noted along the way. This can give you a better understanding of any areas where your user is getting stuck or looping back on themselves, giving you valuable insight into things that can be improved before the app is being developed.
What happens next?
If you’re still as confident in your app concept, it’s time to bring in a partner agency with all the expertise on how to develop your app idea with the best practices.
At Fortnight, the next stage for us is to take you from your core idea through to a refined, high fidelity design using in-depth testing and a development roadmap. This can be used to start the minimum viable product build, which then gets developed into the final app that’s ready for investors and the marketplace.
We’ve worked with Simba Sleep, Bumble, Mindful Chef and Bear (to name a few) to develop award-winning apps that are packed with features and creative flair. Our goal is to kickstart your journey and bring your ideas to life, so share your projects with us at email@example.com and let’s get started.