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So you have an idea for an app...

The great thing about what I do is all of the ideas I get thrown at me on a weekly basis. If you ever wondered how prevalent apps are in mainstream culture today, just tell people you make them for a living. Reactions are almost all the same.

“I’ve always had an idea for an app, but it will never happen because…”

I smile every time, because I spend my work days with people who once thought that way and decided to do something about it. That’s the encouragement I give each person who offers that idea, because we are all makers. The conversation is always ended positively as a result and we move on to something else.

So what would I tell them if they took me up on my words of affirmation? Here’s five ideas that anyone can use to get started. 

1. What’s the one thing you want the app to be awesome at?

Before you can build a product roadmap… 

Before you can plan a release cycle that keeps users engaged… 

Before you can decide how to transition between the views…

You must decide on that one thing you want your app to do well. At Bottle Rocket, we call that the mission statement of an app. It’s the core value and experience we want to give our customers and their users. If you want to release an amazing piece of software, you must nail this piece first or the rest of your work will be for naught.

A single experience done well can mean many things. Watching your favorite television shows from anywhere in the world. Finding and making your favorite recipes. Booking a hotel room with ease. Connecting with your favorite local restaurant. These are all experiences that drive the fundamental approach to everything in your app.

2. There’s more than one decision to make in your app.

As much as your first insight must be dead on, the one pitfall to avoid is to see that as a single solitary decision to make along the road to greatness. The execution of your one thing to do well may not necessarily mean one single feature. It shouldn’t be a boatload of features, but if your app is a single feature that must be correctly planned before you begin validating you will be working on this for quite a while.

An app, despite its small size, is not the personification of a single decision. There are, instead, many small decisions to make. As those decisions multiply and fit together, they begin to form a larger piece. That’s how great design and development work is created.

If you view your app as one big decision, it could lead to you putting off important parts of the process. Putting off decisions is only appropriate when you see a decision for what it is: a small step in the direction of progress.

3. Your instinct may be wrong.

This is why you need to start validating your ideas sooner. Your experience may be perfectly tuned and refined, but if you spend six months on an execution that is not right for most users you have wasted those six months. Instead, you should start getting feedback as soon as you can.

This is not to say you should release it into the wild for all to see immediately. User testing is a cheap and easy way to see if you are on the right track. A walk down the hall of your office might get another insider’s view of what looks great, but your co-workers are not the ultimate feedback you need.

Social media is filled with tech-saavy people who are dying to take a swing at your latest release. You can use tools such as Test Flight to get them regular builds and then follow up with targeted questions on their experience. Don’t view this as a chore, but the most exciting part of the journey. Sooner you get the thumbs up on your design, the sooner you can move on to the next decision.

4. Simplicity is the tiebreaker.

If you are stuck on a decision, there’s one simple way to break the tie and start validating: ask your self which one is more simple. The simplest design, user flow or engineering implantation can help you in a multitude of ways.

First off, it gets the feature out the door and into users hands quickly. If you pick the complex idea first, and are wrong, you wasted way more time than if you did it vice versa. Second, as much as it seems as I’m pushing for quick and easy, app awards are not usually handed out for overly complex interfaces. If you look back on iOS Hall of Fame award winners (four of them are ours), you will see uncluttered and simplistic UI. 

Now, by "simplistic" I dont mean “plain”. You can’t pick a solid color with one button and call it a design. Overdoing it and oversimplifying are both wrong choices. If there’s one you need to start validating, though, put simple out there and build off of it.

5. Don’t be afraid to put it out there.

A common fear is to put out work that you are afraid won’t be good enough. If you have this thought running through your head at night causing you to miss sleep, that’s great! It means you are passionate about your work and want to achieve greatness. (You might also give us a call, we are always looking for people that think this way)

That said, the tech industry is littered with ideas that didn’t quite achieve the heights its creators once had. Your idea will either take root in users or it won’t, so there’s no need in putting off this feedback. Imagine if ideas such as Twitter, Gmail or Skype had waited to perfect their execution before letting people see. Someone else would have beat them to market and cost them greatly!

Feedback means a tweak to your feature or UI. It means a pivot might be in order (which many successful Silicon Valley companies have done). Most certainly it means people’s interest is piqued.

While there is so much that goes into the implantation of the idea you’ve always had, this is at the core of what we do. If you get this down, with some humility and perseverance there is no doubt that the stars can be with your grasp! 

Written by Chris Murman 

Murman regularly blogs about mobile and agile methodologies at chrismurman.com 

Murman co-wrote Designing Apps for Success with Matthew David. The book, which provides web/app designers and developers with consisten app design practices, is available on Amazon


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