The Creative App Building Workflow
From idea to app
Isn’t it odd how you always seem to conceive cool ideas in the weirdest of places? When taking a shower, or when you were about to fall asleep, or right when you shut down your laptop to go to lunch.
It’s as if ideas have a mind of their own, hiding in plain sight until they decide it’s time to show their colors. I like that about ideas; it’d be boring if you could just tap into creativity whenever you wanted.
Speaking about creativity, what happens to all those great app ideas of yours? Let’s talk about that next: The Creative App Building Workflow. What happens after you’ve come up with a great idea?
The Creative App Building Workflow
I came up with this workflow a couple years back and it’s based on every app I built in the past 7 years. It’s the best process to get from idea to app, without running the risk of missing a critical step.
Ready? This is it:
- Research and Ideation
Throughout the workflow you do the marketing. It’s incredibly important! Oh, and once you reach step five you continue with step one – iteration.
Let’s look at the steps, one by one.
1. Researching and Ideating Great Ideas
Ideation is just a fancy name for coming up with ideas. Often, the ideas you come up with are not very polished, like raw diamonds. Those ideas need to diverge and converge, you need to combine them with other ideas to make them great.
Perhaps you’ve got an idea for a novel app, but turn that into a successful business you need to combine it with more traditional thinking. Ideation, divergent thinking and consolidating your idea – onto a single napkin – can help you with that.
Did you get stuck with an idea? Take a walk, get a coffee, sleep on it. You can’t plan creativity.
Research is what you do after you’ve defined your idea. I like to think of research as a way to save time, to cheat, to cut corners. What’s already out there that you can copy, steal, or borrow? The greatest ideas aren’t necessarily the most novel or revolutionary, they often combine old things in new ways or new things in old ways.
Here’s some possible research questions:
- Who is going to build this app? Do we have a coder and a designer? Where can we find ’em?
- What UI Kits, app templates, packages, libraries, open-source code can you use to build your app?
- Who are your potential competitors? What are they doing wrong? Improve upon it. What are they doing right? Copy that.
Now that you’ve properly researched your idea, what’s next?
Validation: Who Wants To Pay For This!?
Forgive me for sounding like a broken record: You should validate your business ideas! I know, I know, it’s much more awesome to indulge yourself in playing startup and build the Next Big Thing, but… it’s all in vain if no one wants to buy what you’re selling.
Validation is the process of proving your business has potential for profitability. You find out whether people want to buy what you’re about to build, before you build it. Said differently, when you validate you’re trying to make your business fail as soon as possible, so you can move on to the next greater idea.
Strategies for validation:
- Get out on the street with screenshots of your app, show it to random strangers, and ask if they want to buy the app for $ 1.99. Crazy, right?
- Talk to your greatest enemies. Don’t ask for feedback from friends, because they’re more likely to tell you your idea rocks just because they like you. Your enemies, on the other hand, will want to drag your idea through the dirt.
- Create a quick web-based sales page with Strikingly or LeadPages and send some traffic to it. Give visitors the option to buy or sign up, which puts them on an email list. When they “buy”, simply tell them you’re working on your app and ask them to become a beta member. You now have a direct line with a potential customer, so make sure you make good use of that by asking for feedback.
So many want-to-be entrepreneurs and app makers spend six months in their ivory towers refining their app, only to find out no one wants it. It’s not entrepreneurship if you don’t come out that ivory tower, into the real world, and get real uncomfortable and try to fail.
OK, now that customers want what you’re building, it is time for…
Design: Make It Pretty
Design serves a purpose: it gets apps from good to great. User interface design, graphic design, motion design, are all sides of the same coin: improving the user experience and usability of an app.
Users take design seriously. With the switch from iOS 6 to 7, some time back, that became very tangible. Apple switched to “flat design”, an emerging trend, and suddenly all old iOS 6-styled apps looked old, ugly and outdated. It became a way for new up-and-coming apps to differentiate themselves from the crowd and the established apps got a wake-up call: app design matters.
Where do you start with your app design? I’m a fan of using design kits and templates to offset the time it takes to come up with an original design. Especially if you’re bootstrapping your app you will have a future opportunity to re-do your design, so take that smartcut now. My favourite design kits: Stitch, Stark and NOW.
In any case, make sure you’ve built a basic mockup of your app. It’s nothing more than a rough sketch, but it’s incredibly important to get the fundamentals right before you apply the design-sauce. An app I use (almost) daily is Balsamiq Mockups. They’ve got a great “Linking” feature, which allows you to add rudimentary interactions to your mockup as if it were a real app.
Done that? Continue with developing your app in the next step.
Develop: Make It Work
The next step is the most obvious one: build the app. Most app makers skip right ahead and start developing their app the minute they come up with the idea. Although development is an important step in The Creative App Building Workflow, it’s not the only step.
Building your app means you either have to get your hands dirty yourself or hire a developer to build the app for you. Just like with your app’s design, you can have great successes with hiring freelancers from Upwork or Freelancer.com.
When building your app it’s important to keep your minimum viable product in mind. What’s version 1.0 of your app? What’s version 2.0? Start with the features for 1.0 and make sure you don’t add any more features once you’ve decided on the basics of your app. That’s feature-creep: adding more and more features to your app. It’s a great way to never finish building your app…
Check out these awesome tools and products that speed up the development timeline of your app: Xcode, Interface Builder, Swift, Balsamiq Mockups, Sketch, Fastlane, Swift Toolbox, PaintCode, Parse Server.
Building an app can be tough, but it’s all worth it when you’ve finally release your creation into the world. It’s time to publish!
Publish: Make The World More Awesome
OH YEAH! You’ve made it. Your app is ready, your customers are dying to get their hands on it, and you’ve got enough future features lined up to go from ninja warrior app to ninja-warrior-with-laser-machine-guns-riding-dinosaurs app (i.e., 1.0 to 2.0…).
JUST DO IT!
Get your app out there. Upload it to the App Store and see what happens. Obviously, this step in the process is the shortest. What’s so important about publishing this step makes up one-fifth of the workflow?
Feedback and iteration. Use your published app to get in touch with new and existing customers. You can use ordinary email or fancy solutions like in-app messaging centers like Intercom. Make data-driven decisions by implementing features like analytics and behavior tracking. You can get as detailed and nitty-gritty as you want, or just ask a simple question: “How do you use what we’ve built?”
Try not to ask yes-no questions when asking for feedback. Just a “yes” or a “no” is too shallow a data point, you want to get to the core of the issue. Do people like what you’ve built? Why not? How do they use your app? More often than not I’ve seen uses of my apps I never designed or intended. It’s up to you to find out and adapt.
Adaption is what you find in iteration. It’s the last step of the process, to go back to where you begun with the knowledge and expertise you gained from the entire workflow. Rebuild your app, if you want, or simply make small pivots and changes. As all the greats will tell you: iteration is the key to becoming greater.
Speaking about becoming greater, you know what’s awesome? Marketing.
The Wildcard: Continuous Marketing
I like to think about marketing as an engineer. What can I build to win the hearts and persuade the minds of customers? Great sales pitches, compelling landing pages, carefully crafted content, it’s all engineering. An engineer takes raw material and works on it like a craftsman, refining characteristics until it’s ready. Marketers and engineers are more alike than you think.
The entire workflow, up to this point, has been about engineering. Ideation, design, building, incorporating feedback – an engineers job. Marketing should be no different and it should be iterated, just like every other step in this workflow.
Marketing should be weaved through the engineering process.
When you’re thinking about features to add to your app, you’re thinking about what benefit the feature could have for your customers. When you’re designing your app you’re thinking about ways to add sharing and virality to it, so the utility of your app can spread to the people who might need it. Even when you’re asking for feedback, you’re increasing the exposure your app gets from new customers. We all want to see great apps succeed, so we talk about them.
Ways you can engineer marketing:
- Think of sales funnels as a well-oiled machine. The machine has several cogs that turn. Your car is able to drive up a hill and speed up on the highway thanks to an ingenious machine called a gearbox. A sales funnel is like a gearbox. What steps can you take to amplify the effect of your sales funnel gearbox?
- Viral growth is a great driver of success. It simply means you tell your friend about an app, and your friends tells two of his friend, and they tell two friends, and so on. What features can you build in your app that facilitate and encourage sharing?
- A good sales pitch taps into a conversation that’s already happening in the head of a customer. With todays technology in social media, e-commerce and advertising a lot of conversations are happening. How can you use tools like Twitter, Facebook, forums, etcetera, to chime in on the conversation?
The Creative App Building Workflow can help you get out of the idea phase and enter the production phase of your app, ultimately with a great end result.
It’s awesome to see your ideas, your vision, come to life. Apply a continuous marketing effort and focus on research, validation, design, development to ultimately publish your app.
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