Want to make a winning app? Give yourself a head start by digesting these essential expert tips
1 Boring can be a strategy
Don’t be put off by the fact your app already exists. Exploit its weaknesses and do it better. Does it have a terrible user interface? Could the user experience be improved? The most successful apps have often been taken from other ideas and improved upon, so don’t be put off.
2 Understand where your app fits
All apps come under a category. Knowing the different types of apps on your device will be key for how you design it. Is it a utility app that’s designed to be used for 30 seconds or less? A fun app? Simply spending some time on your phone and clarifying the difference between those already there, can really give you a heads-up and jump-start your project.
3 Be user-centric
Most apps benefit from a very clearly defined user base during the design process. You should always start with an Application Definition Statement (ADS) that very clearly defines who the app is aimed at – not just with broad target ages or male/female demographics. Think about whether a user’s location or even wealth play a part in what the final application design should be and do.
4 Be context aware
Designing with context is key to a good app. If you understand your user base, you understand what it wants. Remember when Gowalla changed its UI background from dark to light? Many users preferred the dark screen because it enabled them to check in surreptitiously without a lighter UI screen glare beaming out.
5 Be platform aware
You have to think about the drawbacks and benefits of the hardware you’re developing for. Transitioning app designs from the iPad to the Blackberry Playbook and Android, for example, can be a logistical nightmare, because of the fundamental differences in the user experience across platforms. You can’t resize the app’s screen size and expect it just to work. For apps to work properly on different platforms, they will need careful replanning so that they feel natural to the device they’re being used on.
6 Pricing your app
Price depends entirely on the context of the app. Business users are likely to pay a higher premium for something that makes their day job even slightly easier, while users who are bored are likely to spend a flippant 69p out of curiosity, but push that over £1 and you enter a different mindset: one that requires more justification.
7 Be gimmicky or clever, never both
There is a fine line between being clever and gimmicky – and that entirely depends on your price model and the type of app you’re looking to develop. Gimmicks can sell but are there other, smarter gestures or fun things that can be done?
8 App longevity
Many apps are downloaded, used once and deleted. This can be for a variety of reasons and even popular apps – such as Draw Something – have their heyday. To stay on top of the competition and avoid being deleted altogether from a phone, you’re going to have to think about ways to keep the user coming back. Will enhancing the app with in-app purchases help? Can you use push notifications to remind them about something useful? When you think about the apps you use on a daily basis, they’re almost always ones where content is constantly evolving: Twitter, for example.
9 Help the user
Whether you’re guiding users through a tricky bit or just giving them information, providing audio-visual cues – like Firemint does in its Flight Control app – is key. Fingertip targets are also important. The minimum hit size is 22x44px (double for Retina Displays), but many developers still don’t design with these sizes in mind.
10 Set yourself apart
There are thousands of apps on the app store, so how are you going to make sure people know about yours? The first thing to do is put more time into the design of your app icon: users often think if the icon is quality, then its content and UI will be too. Having a one-page website, external to the app store you choose, also helps. So do 30-second app overview videos.
All illustrations by Laurie Rollitt