How to Make an App - Idea, Design & Development

Written by on Friday, March 30th 2018

How to Make an App - Idea, Design & Development

Creating your own app can be quite simple if you understand three things very well: 

  • Your concept and the goals behind it
  • The design and structure of your app
  • The development path of the project

From a standpoint of just starting to think about your app, all this may seem daunting. This article is meant to give you a thorough overview on how to build an app, for iOS, Android or Web, from the ground up. 

Polishing your idea, setting goals, prototyping and publishing it on the stores are some of the topics we will explore. Without further ado, let's dive into it! 

 


​1. Set your goals

App ideas come about from a variety of situations, such as the need for help with daily tasks, an idea whose purpose is strictly to bring enjoyment, or they could even just be the next step to an existing concept (like turning a website into an app). If you pursue bringing this idea to life, chances are, it can become a marketable product and even a business (or part of one). So, like in any other business, establishing goals requires an analytical overview of the subject. 

When defining your app’s roadmap of objectives, there are three key areas you should concentrate on setting goals in: Product, Growth and Finance.

How to Make an App - Idea, Design & Development
At the first stage of your venture, it's important to understand what your idea is aiming to deliver. This is a good way to start thinking about your product’s goals, since it will be the direction you’ll be going in with design and feature development. Here are some of the main questions you should ask yourself to best set the goals for your application: 
 
What are the benefits of your project?
How will it help/entertain the end user?
Do you see your product evolving over time?
How do you want the user to interact with it?
 
Once you've answered these questions, you'll have a clear view of what the characteristics are that you should focus on at the beginning and what your app should look like in the future.

Shifting to a marketing perspective, you must also consider how your product will enter into the market and what milestones you want to achieve in terms of user base growth. Developing a strong community is one of the key success factors for digital products, and that's why this step shouldn't be overlooked. But what exactly should you be trying to figure out?
 
What demographics will the app serve? 
How will it gain awareness amongst the target audience? 
What's the process to convert potential users? 
How will you nurture users to keep them engaged?
 
 After getting a sense of what your product will be and how you can make it grow, it's essential to consider its financial sustainability. Whether you’re building the app as an asset for your business or just as a side-project, having clear business objectives will allow you to make a bigger impact in the long run. Answering these questions can help you out here: 
How will the business be funded? 
Is it a for profit or nonprofit business model? 
What are the revenue streams (ads, subscriptions, etc.) you can leverage?
 
All these objective areas will help you shape your idea and enable you to move forward in the creation process with a clear view of what you want to achieve. Of course, the goals you set in the beginning of your journey can change along the way, but it's important to stay focused on the base framework you've built, so you can remain practical and make something great with your app.

2. Research your target market

Once you’ve decided your idea is worthy of being brought to life, you can start digging into the nitty-gritty. Through the findings of your research, you’ll be able to validate your initial assumptions, and adjust (if necessary) the objectives you've set up in the previous step. 
  
A primary, global analysis of the industry you’ll be operating in will help you get a feel for the dynamics of the market, how customers interact with brands, who the main players are (not only apps), and what the trends you should be aware of are. Above all is the most important element of this ecosystem of which a thorough understanding is crucial—your target audience. 
 
What type of information should you be on the lookout for in this research?
 
1. Good old demographics
 
What is the average age of your user?
Where are your users located? 
What is your users’ connectivity status (always/sometimes/never have access to a reliable internet connection)?
Which devices do your users use?
What’s the average financial situation of your target user? ​
​​
 
2. Behavioral trends
 

What’s the breakdown of where your users spend their time (apps vs. web)?
How willing are your users to download?
Where do users go when seeking information?

 

A good way to gather all of the data mentioned above is creating a buyer persona—a concrete portrait of your ideal user, offering you insight and indications on how you can develop your product to respond to their wants and needs. 

While every project is different, we see a couple of trends that seem to apply across the board, a few of which include: 
 
  • A decreasing desire to download things onto one’s device
  • Rapidly decreasing patience for slow loading times, which means a tiny window of time before the user gets fed up and aborts mission
  • Lower tolerance for lack of security 
  • Less willingness to deal with industry giants 
  • High value on a product’s utility, no hesitation to purge one’s device of storage-consuming elements that don’t bring significant value

 

3. Define your concept

Once all the preliminary analyses are out of the way, it's time to start connecting the dots. You understand who your audience is and you’ve set your goals, now based on those objectives it’s time to figure out what tangible aspects/features will make up a business model that’ll allow you to achieve them. A few of the most common goals that have specific feature requirements to match them are the following: 

1. To monetize

Could you charge for access to your product?
Could it be free of charge but include other monetization options, such as advertising?
Is a Freemium model an option?


2. To spread the word

What efforts will you make to achieve visibility?
How can you encourage users to share your content?
What obstacles can you eliminate that are preventing the most direct access to your message?


3. To boost an existing business/project

What convenience/added value are your customers currently lacking?
What are common reasons customers disappear that can be solved through an app?
What’s currently stopping new users from discovering you or giving you a first try?

 
Based on the answers to these questions, you can organize and structure the concept of your app, including the key features and benefits (for both you and the user) needed. Be as practical and specific as possible. Below are a few examples of how to be efficient when defining your needs:
 
Inefficient: I want to communicate with users
Efficient: I want to communicate with users via push notifications or SMS
 
Inefficient: I want to reward my users
Efficient: I want to reward my users via loyalty programs from which they can gain points through purchases or social media sharing
 
Inefficient: I want geolocation
Efficient: I want geofence and beacon functionalities
 
The diagram below is an example of a concept map for a radio app that you can use as inspiration.

How to Make an App - Idea, Design & Development
Once you've added all your ideas and concepts to the map it will be a lot simpler to determine the importance of each feature and the architecture of your application. This is a good exercise to understand how to come up with the development roadmap of your app.

​4. Create your prototype

The next step of the creation process is getting the concepts you’ve defined onto paper, and building the skeletal framework of your application. At this stage you’ll be planning the layout of your app as well as the basic navigational interactions within your application. 
  
You might be wonder why you can’t just jump straight to the design. 
 
Sketching the wireframe of your app allows you to focus on the essential parts of your interface, before starting to work with design elements and styles. Doing this will make it easier to identify where to place the key components of the app and to make them accessible to the user. Using wireframes also allows you to make changes to the interface sketch a lot faster than if you were working with a final mockup. 
  
In a nutshell, it's the storyboard of your app.

How to Make an App - Idea, Design & Development
Beyond the visualization of your project, the sketches you produce at this point will also simplify the communication with your team or clients, as it focuses on goals and priorities for the product. You can start with a pencil and paper and then iterate it with tools for digital wireframing:
 

5. Explore your options

Once you've fine tuned your sketches and produced a decent wireframe, you can go ahead and start figuring out how to bring everything to life. There is a lot to consider at this step, so take your time and be sure to fully explore all your options. 

You basically have 3 options to choose from when going about producing your app. ​

1. Develop it yourself
 
If you have the adequate skills, this option makes sense. You can either code the app completely from scratch, or use the help of a tool to save time on the basic framework and add on customized code if you have the opportunity to do so (and if needed). 

One thing to consider here is where your competencies lie. If you’re planning to be present on multiple platforms, you’ll most likely need to have coding knowledge in several languages (Objective C/Swift, Java, HTML, CSS, etc.) as well as the time do repeat your work for each platform.
 
2. Use an app builder
 
App builders are a great option for saving money and time, while still ending up with a solid product. Keep in mind that not all projects are suitable for app builders—if you have very complex and specific needs, chances are you’ll need a custom solution. Do your homework—thoroughly test many platforms and take the time to speak with the sales teams and show them your specific needs that you’ve laid out in the previous step; they should be able to tell you pretty quickly whether or not your project is realistically compatible with their platform.
 
A few things to consider when choosing an app builder: 
  • Do they offer all the features I need? If not, do I have the option to add on custom coding (and do I have the resources to do so)?
  • Do they provide app templates for the industry I’m interested in?
  • What platforms does this app builder produce apps for (native, web, etc.)?
  • What’s their policy in case I want to leave?
  • How intuitive is the platform (aka how much time will I need to spend learning how to use it)?
  • Does this platform produce white label apps? If not, am I OK with having their brand displayed? 
  • What are the costs? If it is a low-cost or free app maker, are the limitations  going to hinder my project?
3. Hire someone to do it
 
Whether it be through an agency or a developer you can easily find on the web, the option of going bespoke has its pros and cons. For most, the biggest deciding factor here is the cost. Hiring someone to create your app is by far the most expensive option, but if you have the resources to do so, it can be a good way to end up with the exact product you had in mind without having to make any compromises that using an app builder sometimes involves.

6. Choose your technology

I hope you’ve made it this far into this app-creation guide, because we are finally ready to talk tech.
 
There are different technologies that can be used to build a mobile app project. The criteria for picking one or another relies mostly on the assessment of the benefits they offer and the investment (money and time) required to achieve the specifications of the app. Furthermore, you should also assess the resources you have in hand, in terms of technical knowledge, and time available to dedicate to the project.
 
We will focus on three leading approaches to create applications, while giving instructions on how you can get started with them.
 
Native
Since the beginning of app markets, native technologies for iOS and Android have always been at the forefront of mobile development. This is due the fact that this method offers reliable and high performance products that can access a big variety of native APIs and features available in the smartphones or tablets. Besides, making an app with native coding means that you will be creating independent outputs for each specific operational system, which will help deliver a refined interface for different devices.
 
iOS
Apple has it's own way for app development, with two common languages (Objective-C and Swift, and their associated frameworks) used across all devices powered by them. Anyone who wants to get started programming iOS apps can dive into the vast amount of guides and materials offered by Apple.
 
Android
Android is also a major mobile OS, having Google as its main advocate and contributor. Different than iOS, Android is open source, which means the development community can integrate custom features and implement it in devices from different manufacturers. Google also provides content and courses for new Android developers, teaching the language Java and the SDK framework.

 
Web
Another option to develop your app is doing it with web technologies. This became a popular choice since developers start adopting HTML5 more broadly and web browsers (on both desktop and mobile) invested a lot to support the technology. This combination has enabled them to achieve an app-like experience. It's also possible to go a step further and incapsule the web app code into a native container (including mostly UI aspects) in order to create a hybrid app that users can install and run similarly to native.
 
A new concept has been on the rise, the Progressive Web Apps. The apps created following this method offer enhanced user experiences delivered through a combination of radically improved web technologies and some native premises. The advantage here is that the apps may run seamlessly regardless of the form factor and operational system.
 

When choosing which platform(s) to publish on, your demographic research will come in handy. Familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of each one in order to make an educated choice on which will be the most beneficial for you and your audience. 

Here are some examples of the types of things to consider when choosing your technology: 
 

7. Get to work

Now all of the tough decisions are made, and it’s time to go for it.  
  
Obviously the process will vary based on the method you’ve chosen for developing your app, but for our purposes we’ll assume that you’ve chosen to go the app builder route. In this case, the creation process will go something like this: 
 
1. Design 

There’s a lot to decide on in this step,— the app’s global color theme, the style of the header, its navigation mode, the icon that will represent it in the stores and/or on your users’ home screens, its splash screen, etc. 
When designing these elements, it’s always a good idea to keep the look somewhat aligned with any existing design your brand already has than identifies it, such as logos, colors, fonts, etc. 

2. Content 

Time to add everything and anything you want to convey about your business/project, which can range from photos to audio files to maps and more. In some cases, you’ll just enter this content directly into your platform’s backend manually, in other cases you may already have your content available somewhere and you’ll just need to integrate that external source to pull it in (such as an RSS feed, a live stream, or a social media account). 

3. Features/bonuses

In many cases, this is where the most noticeable added value for your users will reveal itself. Always keep your engagement strategy in mind when adding in your features. 

Is your goal to remain in consistent contact with your users? Activate push notifications, and take it a step further by exploring geolocation notification options or allowing users to subscribe to the topics they want to hear about, for example. Trying to form a community out of your users? Go for some social options, such as in-app messaging, the ability to comment on content, or the opportunity for them to contribute their own content to the app. 

4. Customize

If necessary and if possible, explore the customization options your platform offers and add any needed features or design options that weren’t available by default. Customizing is the most effective way to make your app stand out from the others of its kind. 

8. Test

After assembling all the pieces of the app creation process (concept, design, and technology), you’ll reach a version that is nearly ready to be released. But before sharing your new application with the world, carry out a series of tests to check if everything is running as you've planned. You’ll need to test on all versions of the app that you’re planning to publish (native iOS, native Android, PWA, etc.), and in different OS as well (different browsers, iOS 10/11, etc.). Be sure to recruit a couple of beta-testers as well—a fresh perspective will bring elements or points to your attention you may have overlooked or may have a biased view on.

Often times app builders provide a test app you can use to run preliminary checks on your app. The most optimal way to test your app, however, is through its AdHoc version, which is the actual file of the app that will be submitted to the stores that you can download onto and run on your device—it’s the exact replica of what your users will see and every aspect of the app can be test using this method. Another option—for native iOS apps, TestFlight is an Apple product that allows you to efficiently test your app before its publication. 
  
Here’s a standard checklist for you and your beta-testers to follow during testing: 
 
✔ Overall app speed
✔ No crashes when performing any action
✔ Performance in poor connectivity
✔ All functionality/interaction responds to the task it’s supposed to accomplish 
✔ Design is visually pleasing and correctly adapted to all screens
✔ Navigation is intuitive and efficient
✔ No aspects of the app are “hidden”
✔ App name/store description is self explanatory

 

9. Publish

The happiest moment for any mobile developer has arrived: publishing the app! 
  
Distributing iOS and Android apps in the stores requires you to go through a rather bureaucratic process, starting with registering as a developer. For Apple devices you will be subscribing to the Developer Program for the App Store, costing $99 per membership year. Keep in mind that Apple requires the owner of the content in the app to match the owner of the developer account, so if you publish multiple iOS apps for different projects, each will need to have its own individual developer account. Becoming a Google Play Publisher costs $25 (one time fee), and you must also own a Gmail account. 

The app submission is independent for each store. This means that the two binary files compiled after the development was finished will be processed separately with no correlation.
 

iOS 

The publication and management of apps in the App Store is done through iTunes Connect. After creating the project and uploading the .IPA (binary file for iOS), you can focus on detailing and optimising the information about your app in the App Store. 
Keep in mind that Apple is quite strict with the apps it accepts into its store, so familiarize yourself with all of the rules  and do the necessary to make sure you’re in compliance. Once you’ve submitted your app, it will go through a review process by their team (which takes about 3 days on average), and then assuming all is well, it will be published and ready for download.

Android 

Most of the publishing process for an Android app happens in the Google Play Developer Console. In this interface, you will upload the binary  .APK file and add the relevant information about your app (description, screenshots, rating, etc.) as well as the commercial characteristics, such as the pricing and distribution methods. 

Publishing for Android is a bit easier than doing so for iOS—there is no review process at Google Play and your app will be publicly available just a few hours after it’s been submitted. That is not to say you should ignore the app regulations established by Google Play, as they can remove your app later on if they notice that it’s not in compliance.

Web  

Luckily, publishing a Progressive Web App is a lot simpler. All you need to do is take care of the hosting of the application on a web server and link a web domain to it. With this process being so quick and easy, you have more time to spend on optimizing your SEO to ensure your product is easily discovered by the public.

10. Continuous improvements

If you’re just entering the tech industry, you’ll quickly realize that things move fast. 
  
Once users start downloading your app, keep an ear out for feedback so that you can consistently offer improvements to their experience. Another indicator you can use is app usage analytics, keeping track of KPI’s like launches per day and time spent on pages can give excellent insight into how people are using your application. Remember: numbers don't lie. 

Another must every app owner should do regularly is to always be publishing new content and features. Whether by releasing new material or upgrading existing functionalities, it’s the most effective way to keep users engaged and avoid the dreaded low-utility realization/app deletion. Make sure your users are well aware when there are new releases—you can alert them via push notifications or feature these new elements on the most visible part of your app, the home screen. 

You can update your app in the stores as many times as you want, although in some cases you’ll be required to submit a new version of the app if larger modifications have been made. On the other hand, your PWA can be updated infinitely without any resubmission constraints. Either way, don't hesitate to bring something new to the table when you have the opportunity!
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We have written this how-to article based on the experience of +30k apps that have been built with GoodBarber. Hopefully it’s has been helpful to guide you through the creation process of your own mobile app.  
  
If you have any questions, drop us a line on the comments. We will be thrilled to assist you! 
  
Happy app building!



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