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6 Questions Startups Should Ask About Design and Development When Building an App

October 28, 2019

Design and development play equally important roles when it comes to completing a successful app build. But what happens when your team doesn’t have the resources to hire full development and design teams? You’ve got to be even more strategic and clever in your approach.

Health apps, networking apps, productivity apps — there’s an app for every aspect of our lives.

If you’re looking for proof on how much the mobile app industry is booming, how’s this for a stat: In the first quarter of 2018, more than 1,400 new apps were being released for iOS every single day. And this growth shows no signs of slowing down.

Mobile apps certainly make our lives easier to manage, which makes them one of the most logical ways for startups to address their customers’ problems. Building an app, however, takes some serious time and effort. It’s not as simple as piecing a bunch of code together and hoping for the best. As with any problem, you need to start with a plan.

There are two major components to building a new app:

  1. Design, which relates to the layout, visuals, and user experience
  2. Development, which relates to the technology used, coding, and functionality.

At MindSea, we’ve built many successful apps for a variety of industries, from news & media to B2B SaaS to health & wellness. And we use our expertise in both design and development to ensure the success of any new app.

Startups are typically made up of smaller teams who may not have the resources to hire dedicated design and development teams, so it’s even more important for you get creative in your approach.

So, if you’re a small business looking to build an app, how should you think of both design vs. development? I’m here to share all the factors you need to consider to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

6 Questions to Ask When Designing and Developing a Mobile App

  1. How easy is it for users to navigate your app?
  2. Is your app visually appealing?
  3. Do tests support your decisions?
  4. Does your research support this approach?
  5. What technical requirements are needed to build this app?
  6. What best practices should we engage in?

1. How Easy Is It for Users to Navigate Your App?

Think of every app you use in the course of a day — maybe it’s Calendar or Messenger or Spotify. Whichever you think of, they all have one specific purpose, and they are designed around that single purpose.

When you open the Uber app, it doesn’t send you through a series of menus in pursuit of booking a car; it simply asks, “Where to?”:

Uber

If you’re building an app, it’s easy to get swept up in all the possibilities you can offer. But remember, just because an app can be feature-rich doesn’t mean it should.

Avoid building a “swiss-army knife app” because those extra features that sounded cool could very well go unused, resulting in wasted resources and unhappy users.

If you’re unconvinced that simpler is better, the U.S.-based bank Citi emphasizes ease of use and navigability in its mobile app, as opposed to the feature-bloat of its competitors. This approach is paying off: Its mobile banking users grew 12% in the second quarter of 2019.

Simplicity is paramount in app design. If your app doesn’t offer easy onboarding or simple navigation, no one will go out of their way to use it.

2. Is Your App Visually Appealing?

While not quite as important as simplicity, the visuals and colors used in a mobile app can augment the user experience. The use of contrasting colors and shapes draw the user’s eye toward areas they can interact with.

Many startups are content simply using their brand colors, but there’s quite a bit to be said for color psychology. Certain colors give off certain impressions or make people feel specific ways.

Blue, for example, conjures up ideas of trust and safety — and so it’s not a coincidence that apps for social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all incorporate some shade of blue, not only in the apps themselves but in their icons.

Speaking of icons, research suggests there are certain color trends based on functionality. For example, 30% of apps in the food and drink category use red, which is thought to be an appetite-stimulating color.

What are the most popular colors used for app icons in the food and drink category?

While the app icon is the first opportunity to get a user’s attention, there have been some interesting design trends in the past few years.

When Instagram switched from its old Bell and Howard camera-inspired logo to its current gradient in 2016, there was a significant backlash, but using bold colors and gradients for app icons is now a design trend that’s going to continue well into the future.

3. Do Your Tests Support Your Decisions?

Many startups are rightfully more concerned with how their applications function than how they might look, so they may be perfectly content with doing one design pass before they ship.

The faster an app is released into the world, the faster it can help solve the problem it was designed for, right?

A very common problem — even among large, experienced companies — is that in the rush to ship an app out the door, businesses don’t devote as much time as they should to proper user testing and interviews.

There’s no one better to tell you where you might be able to make improvements or to advise you of the features you don’t need to focus on with your app than those who will be using it. A mix of both objective and subjective questions can create valuable feedback and may help highlight areas in your initial designs that you hadn’t considered.

Instead of waiting until it’s launch time to uncover problematic areas, incorporate thorough testing into your design process. This will catch points of friction between the app and your users early on. And then when your app does ship, it will be consumer-focused and ready to start making a difference in people’s lives.

Now, here are three important questions to ask before you begin developing your app.

4. Does Your Research Support This Approach?

Startups exist because they want to solve a specific problem, but that problem might not turn out to be a problem at all.

When developing an app, you need to ensure you know who the end-user is and specifically how you are addressing one of their pain points. Without proper research, you may end up expending resources on something that was never a problem in the first place.

As Grow and Convert outlines, good user research isn’t knowing the job role of your target customer, the makeup of their family, or their preferred soda. It is, rather, understanding the biggest challenges they face, what questions they might have, and where they might go to learn more about your app.

High-quality research is so important that not doing it can sink an otherwise promising business. This is a risk that a lot of startups simply cannot afford to take.

In the span of 18 months, early Uber competitor Hailo went from a $100 million dollar investment to broke due to the lack of proper research.

How?

The company didn’t account for the fact that yellow cab drivers in New York didn’t carry mobile devices, an assumption they made based on success in their native England.

Hailo didn’t do its research and, therefore, suffered the consequences. You need to do proper research to have a successful app.

5. What Technical Requirements Are Needed to Build This App?

Choosing a tech stack — the combination of client-side and server-side technologies that you will work within — is one of the most important development considerations for any project. When it comes to mobile apps, software and programming languages that you choose will dictate the limitations you will face, and a tech stack that is not aligned with your needs can set a project back months.

Tech stack

As a result of the speed with which they seek to deliver an MVP, most startups are likely to want to use more simplistic, or leaner, tech stacks. That being said, there is no one-size-fits-all framework, and two apps tackling the same problem could take wildly different approaches.

There are a few questions to ask yourself when determining the best tech stack to use for your app. But, generally, a tech stack should scale according to how complicated what you’re trying to build is.

6. What Best Practices Should We Engage in?

A very wise developer once told me: “It doesn’t matter if you’re using the best technology if you’re not following best practices for app development. You can build a beautiful and well-functioning application from plain JavaScript and React if you're writing clean code, following basic design patterns, and testing.”

As much as simplicity is vital in design, testing and iteration is needed in development. Even though it is a rigorous and time-consuming process, there are few things worse than shipping an app that doesn’t work.

In the case of mobile, testing refers to ensuring that your app offers a seamless and identical experience across different software versions on different smartphones, even if they’re running the same operating system. For example, an app designed for the iPhone 11 may experience bugs or crashes when running on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. You don’t want this.

There are also certain test cases that you should cover, such as battery usage, data requirements, and memory. Once you complete testing, evaluate your findings and find opportunities for iteration. You may never be able to shoot all the fish in the barrel, but with every round of testing and every iteration, you’re making the barrel that much smaller.

Tie App Design and Development Together

When most startups build apps, they often tend to prioritize development — building an MVP and getting it in front of users quickly.

However, I can tell you that approach doesn’t work. Any newly built app should be a well-thought-out product that combines all the necessary elements of both development and design.

Without market research on the development side, there is no problem to solve, so you end up with a bunch of great-looking, functional screens that don’t serve any purpose.

Without usability testing on the design side, there’s no way to assess user experience, so you end up with a powerful, beautifully coded application that’s unusable.

Even if you have to sacrifice some cool features or the ability to scale in the short-term, meeting in the middle gives you the opportunity to take advantage of the best of both disciplines and gives your app a much greater chance of success.

Ready to build your own app? Let's connect to discuss your next project. At MindSea, we partner with innovative organizations to build mobile products that drive business value and improve lives. Get in touch today.

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