So You Want to Build an App…

Nick Swenson

May 12, 2018
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The lightbulb has turned on! You have a killer idea that is going disrupt the tech world. And then reality sinks in…Now what? The prospect of building a mobile app from scratch can be incredibly intimidating.

Whether you’re new to the mobile app market or consider yourself a veteran, you can always set yourself up for success with careful planning and iteration. As your guide for everything mobile app development, we’ve generated this step-by-step blueprint to help you navigate the process:

Step 1: Inspiration and Ideation

Figuring out the perfect idea that will lead to the next big thing on the app store may seem like a daunting task. Start by taking a deep look into your own immediate world. What obstacles keep you from completing tasks? Can you find any pain points that cause headaches? Do you find yourself thinking “there’s a better way to do this”? Do you see an opportunity to digitize a physical business that already exists in the world?

Try writing out a list of fifty bugs, or everyday nuisances that affect your life, even in the smallest way. Now, from this collection of annoyances, think critically about solutions to 3-5 problems.

Once you’ve narrowed in on an idea to pursue, bust out those Post-it notes and start the process of ideation. Begin with the big picture and describe the problem you’re attempting to solve, then move into drafting potential ideas. Iteration is key at this stage–continue building upon your ideas and introduce out-of-the-box solutions.

Step 2: Research

Now that you’ve identified an idea to develop, it’s time to gather information about current solutions already in existence.

Finding existing apps that address the problem you’re tackling may feel discouraging, but really digging deep into the current market and understanding where users are still unsatisfied can help you carve out your app’s competitive edge. Read reviews of current products and return to your wall of Post-its to continuously adjust your idea.

Next, solicit input from a variety of potential users. Moonlight as an anthropologist and talk to real people about the problem you’re solving; ask them about their major pain points, when and where they encounter the issue, and any alternative solutions they utilize.

After conducting these informal interviews, you can develop user personas. These profiles of imagined customers illustrate your target audience and how they might benefit from your app.

Keeping these personas in mind throughout the rest of the development process is crucial for creating a user-centric product that appeals to a range of people.

Step 3: Strategy

Equipped with a clearer picture of how your idea will function as a product, you can determine how it will function as a business.

Analyze different monetization models to determine how you can turn a profit without impairing the user experience, and consult the Swenson He Roadmap for Mobile App Monetization for choosing a revenue strategy.

Before moving into the design and development stages, there are some important organizational concerns to address, including:

  • Timeline:
    Is it imperative that you launch your product as quickly as possible to be first-to-market? Although you may be feeling pressure to release an app before anyone can steal your idea, being first to launch doesn’t always guarantee success. Take the social media market–although MySpace came out first, Facebook has become the face of the industry. If you are willing to be flexible on launch time, you can learn from the mistakes of apps that have already debuted in order to release a more advanced first build.
  • Finances:
    How are you going to raise capital to start your project? How are you going to pitch to potential investors? Side note: Swenson He’s investment arm, SH Capital, offers clients the opportunity to pitch their idea for potential venture capital support.
  • Team:
    Who are you going to hire to design and code your app? Headhunting for your own in-house team requires a lot of time and energy; working with a mobile app development firm offers an opportunity to work with a group of experts. Although the cost of development runs much higher than vendors that outsource, the quality, timeline, and success will be higher. (Checkout our Onshore vs. Offshore Development Infographic for an easy guide


Step 4: UI/UX Design

When thinking about the visuals and digital experience of your mobile app, the best recipe for success is to start with a broad, rough concept and then hone in on a more finished design.

Grab a sketchbook or a whiteboard and draw out a very basic layout and flow. With a high-level idea of how a user will navigate through your app, you can start wireframing with a tool like Balsamiq. Before finalizing the product’s UI, look around the app store or sites like UI Movement to see what’s currently trending and gain a stroke of inspiration.

To create a final clickable prototype of your app before moving into code, design your screens in programs like Figma.

Another important aspect of the design process to keep your brand top of mind. Constructing a recognizable brand and image for your app is critical as a marketing tool, competitive edge, and driver of user engagement. Font pairings, color schemes, logo, and app name are all vital components of your brand.

Step 5: Development

The first challenge when approaching the development process is choosing a native or hybrid product. While a native build requires developers to essentially code two separate apps (one for Android and one for iOS), a hybrid app deploys the same body of code on both platforms.

The two major considerations to weigh when deciding which strategy will best fit your project are cost and user experience.

While hybrid development is significantly cheaper than native, certain user experience compromises are made when working with one code body on two different operating systems, which each have their own, very different style guidelines.

If you do not have a programming background, this is a good time to explore your options for contracting a development team. Considering your budget and scope of the project, you can choose to work with an onshore or overseas mobile app development team; read more about the pros and cons of each here.

Step 6: Testing

Performing testing ensures that you’re putting out the best possible product. Alpha testing, which is conducted by your engineering team, throughout the development process prevents major issues from cropping up at the end of the project cycle and ensures that you stay on track to release on time.

The key here is replication–document your testing process so that you can retrace your steps, repeat the bug, and fix it efficiently. Make sure to utilize multiple devices with different screen sizes and software versions.

Once you have a viable product, assemble a group of beta users to take your app for a test drive. Having a high volume of unbiased testers is essential, but make sure your intellectual property is protected with non-disclosure agreements.

Once you have your group of app guinea pigs, you can brief them on the product and distribute the beta version using services like TestFlight or HockeyApp.

Finally, sequester feedback from your testers in the form of bug reporting and feature requests. Asking testers to recount their in-app experience in journals and contribute to online forums on user opinions and insights can also be useful in preparing your app for launch.

Step 7: Going Live

Congratulations! Your app is now available for download. Don’t rest too easy yet–your work is far from over.

Continue reading app store reviews and soliciting user feedback to update your product to best serve your audience. Introduce new features to enhance the experience of the app and better tackle that original problem that started this journey.

Since you need people to actually use your app, allocate resources and time to marketing campaigns that boost user acquisition, engagement, and retention.


You can do it!

Now go forth and build that app! If you still find yourself feeling lost at any point along the way, give us a call. At Swenson He, we live and breathe mobile apps, and would love the opportunity to help you turn your shower thought into a successful business.

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