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Stefano Navari

I) The Discovery Stage — Laying Down the Foundation for your Mobile App

All too often, people dive head first into their mobile app creation with no strategy and no clue about the process. They come with preconceived notions that ignore and dismiss some really important factors in the success of the app.

What ends up happening is that lack of planning leads to lots of bumps and complications which in turn end up destroying their momentum and costing them lots of time and resources. In my experience, it seems that one of the top reasons mobile apps fail is poor planning and lack of strategy. The recurring theme throughout this article is the following:

“You always want to measure twice and cut once.”

You always want to measure twice and cut once.

That’s why any serious mobile app agency mandates a Discovery Stage when developing an app.

The Discovery Stage is a fancy term for pre-development research (another fancy term). That stage is meant to define the app’s goals, the problem(s) it solves and the expectations of end users.

The goal of this stage is to:
  • Define the project from a project management perspective
  • Identify project risks and dependencies
  • Formulate a realistic time & cost estimate for the project

Steps of Discovery/Planning Stage

Step 1: Ideation — Get an Idea

You often hear people throw around the phrase “Ideas are worthless, it’s all about the implementation”. There is a case for that argument. Take a crap idea like “Yo” for instance. You can still make that project popular and financially successful although it would be quite the uphill battle. It would clearly be better to start with a good idea. If you’re trying to make money out of your app (and by the way you should be because you’re spending time and money on this), then you need to start with an app idea that has the potential to be profitable in the long run.

Usually, an idea would come from a problem faced by you, the app creator. Sometimes it can also be a problem that some people you know are facing. “Scratching your own itch” is how people who use cheesy tech idioms like to call it. Watch out for that one though, as it can be dangerous to think that you are the user and therefore you know everything you need to know about the user. That’s rarely ever true.

If you want to go that route though, just list the problems that you’d like to address and choose the one that gives you sleepless nights. That’s the one you want to take the next step with. Congrats! Now you have an idea for your app.

Now, your task is to immerse yourself completely in digging the cause of the problem and then begin to evaluate how a mobile app could solve it. Just remember, so much time and money goes into developing an app, so ‘Ideation’ is the time to ruthlessly confront your idea’s validity and viability.

Example of illustration for mobile application
Step 2: Competition — Positioning your app for success

Let’s say you get on the app store and choose the Beauty category. As you might imagine, countless options will be presented to you. It’s easy to overlook the fact that the same exact thing will apply to your app no matter what category you end up choosing.

Nowadays, there are thousands of apps serving similar purposes. That’s why analyzing your competition is a good way to kick off your project and position yourself to outperform the other apps in your chosen category.

When researching other apps, what for the following metrics: Number of installs, company history, star rating, and reviews.

“But…my mentor told me to just pick something quickly and just “iterate”.”

Sure. But iterating for the sake of iterating is a waste of resources. Iterations are good, but time-consuming, expensive and honestly sometimes frustrating. Identifying your competition will save you a few iterations and as a bonus will help you understand that unique factor that separates you from the crowd and makes you stand out to your target audience.

Step 3: Knowing your Target Audience

Say you’re an ice-cream vendor, you wouldn’t set up your shop in front of Baskin-Robbins. You can’t just think “people come here for ice cream. I sell ice cream…therefore this must be a good idea”. It just doesn’t work that way.

Similarly, you wouldn’t just throw your app on the app store in a given category and pray for everything else to work out. In order to create a successful app, you have to define a specific target demographic that you will cater to. Some useful metrics are age, gender, location, hobbies, etc. (to name a few)

Another often overlooked metric is the actual phone brands that your target demographic uses. Why is that important you ask? Because phones (just like any other device) have specs and limitations that force you to consider factors such as screen resolution, color saturation and other more technical factors such as hardware performance, battery life and required peripherals (for IoT apps for instance).

I) The Discovery Stage — Laying Down the Foundation for your Mobile App

Client: So, when can we see some screens? We really like blue for the primary color.

Me: Hmm..check out my blog post, the part that says “UX Design Designing User Experience for Your App”

Even the most visually amazing app can and will fail to perform well on the app store if it’s not intuitive and lacks usability.

As a user, you would want to open an app and feel like you already intuitively know everything — where to click next, what actions to perform, how to jump to a particular place, etc.The second you get stuck, you give up and go try another app. Sounds familiar?

So what do we do to make sure this doesn’t happen to the potential users you just spent so much time researching? We do UX.

What is UX Design?

UX design is an ongoing process. With each update, you should consider the way people are using your app. If an update makes the accessibility of your app complex or increases the number of taps to the users’ destination, you’re heading off course and it’s time to correct.

Let’s get into some of the UX design process.

Example of illustration for mobile application
Step 1: Information Architecture

Simply put, Information Architecture (or IA) is figuring out how all the content should be structured to maximize accessibility and ease of use. It is the user journey, the path that users will take to perform their intended action. It is in this stage that you decide which features will help users go through the journey, as well as overall functionality of your app. You also decide how to present and organize this information.

Typically, the IA process begins by writing down the list of desired features and a some rough sketches of what needs to be displayed and where in the app. The outcomes of this step are user flows and user journeys which serve as building blocks for creating wireframes.

Step 2: Wireframing your App

A wireframe, also called a page schematic or screen blueprint (just kidding, no one actually calls them that), is a visual guide that shows the skeletal framework of an app. It gives you an idea on the infamous “look and feel”. With a wireframe in front of you, it’s easy to explain the concept to your dev team and set reasonable expectations from the start.

Wireframing eases the often messy transition between the stages of the project. It is easier and cheaper to erase stuff from a sketch than it is to rewrite code. Good wireframes are essential in helping you to launch your app more effectively.

Step 3: Clickable prototype

Now that you have some screens to play with, you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with InVision, an essential tool of the product designer’s toolbox. This isn’t an InVision guide, but InVision is so easy to use that it doesn’t need one. Just upload your screens to InVision and link them together.

Then download InVision on your phone and test your prototype. Awesome right? Your app doesn’t have any functionality at this stage but that’s ok. You can still click around and test it out to identify some of the obvious surface flaws. At this point, make the changes you need to be making to the wireframes and test it out again. Repeat this process until you are satisfied and ready to make some pretty pictures.

Final Words

If you are reading this, chances are you just went through this massive post to learn how to develop your mobile app. Congrats! Hopefully you have learned a thing or two about what goes into building a mobile app from scratch. If you think I missed a critical stage of you want to find out more about a particular step of the process, feel free to leave a comment with questions/suggestions and tell me about the apps you’re building, I promise I won’t steal your ideas 😉