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What does it take to design a successful app

(Image credit: Image Credit: IT Pro Portal)

The app industry has become extremely saturated in recent years, with as many as 60 thousand apps being added to the Apple App Store every month. And while there is no sure fire checklist to ensure that your design is a success, there are a few things you should do to get your app on the road to success. 

We recently worked with Tate to build their new app, which provides visitors a free and easy to navigate guide to all the exhibitions, and through this work, we identified four areas which were crucial to ensuring the app resonated with visitors: know your audience, keep it simple, have a business model and utilise data. 

Everything else regarding your app – such as the technical and design-based decisions – will depend on successfully hitting these marks from the word go. 

Know your audience:

It might seem like an obvious point, but you really need to understand your audience from the start. Whether you are trying to create a new version of something that is already out there or introduce a new idea, you should be confident in four things: 

  • That your app offers them more than your competitors;
  • It can be seamlessly adopted, involving little or no effort for the user.
  • That the benefits are clear to user from the start- What does it do differently?
  • You know what the critical mass point will be. While it would be great to be able to build a user base from scratch, it’s never as simple as this. Take inspiration from Facebook- the public couldn’t join for about two years as they focused on college networks first. The site had a mass following by the time they went mainstream. You could have a great idea, but you need people using it for the app to succeed.

Have a business model

Before you launch with your app, you should ask yourself a few questions to ensure that you have stayed true to your business model:

  • What does success really look like for you?
  • If you want/need the app to make money, then what does the business model look like?
  • Will you be charging for the app or selling advertising within it?
  • If you do not want to make money from the app, do you have user numbers in mind as a metric of success?

Checking in with your team throughout the design process will help keep you on track and remind you of the key reasons for designing the app in the first place. 

Keep it simple

One of the easiest downfalls of any app creator is biting off more than they can chew. While creating a new app is exciting, it is important that you don’t try to build everything at once. Companies, such as Snapchat, started with a core proposition- that messages and images could automatically be deleted – and grew from there, slowly adding on extras once their user base had developed. They probably had 20 ideas for features at the start, but if they had gone live with that shopping list, it would have cost a lot to build, and would have taken a lot of time. 

This lean approach allows you to be more focused in your designs and get it out to the market faster, allowing you to measure its success (and falling points). Monitoring metrics such as the K Factor, which measures the rate of growth of the app; and the Daily Active Users, a critical way of measuring the stickiness of the app, is essential to ensure that your app is hitting the mark. 

Another key benefit of keeping an app design simple is that you can make your budget stretch further. Money, or the lack of it, is one of the biggest factors that can dictate an app’s success and while you certainly shouldn’t expect a new app to be making money from your launch day, you do still need to convince investors that the app is worth putting money into. 

Building something that is focused, lean and measurable and that gives an audience what they want is therefore essential in attracting the right investor. You can clearly show that you have managed to get people engaged, and measured why people have stopped engaging- putting you in a position to go up to an investor and say: ‘We’ve built something, people have used it, now we know what we need to do to improve it. Give us the money to achieve that’.

Always remember to ask yourself: what is the one important thing you want this app to do that distinguishes it in the market? 

Utilise data

Finally, always remember that data rules! We can learn so much from live data by using the ‘Wizard of Oz’ approach, introduced by Eric Ries in The Lean Start Up. It’s a great approach that stops a start up committing to any complex code or features by creating a front-end experience that makes the product appear more sophisticated than it actually is. While the user assumes that the app is doing the work, in fact a human mimics most of the work that the code will do once the idea is properly validated. The benefits of this include:

  • Tangible results achieved quickly and at low cost;
  • Allows rapid iteration and improvement based on real insight;
  • Provides direct contact with users, and access to measurable and quantifiable user behaviour and metrics.

Jason Cartwright, CEO, Potato
Image Credit: IT Pro Portal

Jason Cartwright
Jason Cartwright is the CEO of Potato- part of the AKQA network. Our work is diverse, influential and daring. Our international team build the world’s largest and most interesting web applications for audiences worldwide.