I work with a lot of clients on a daily basis to bring their applications and ideas for interactive experiences to life. Over the years, I have found a methodology that allows us to focus our efforts in a way that is ideal for getting relevant applications to market quickly, and also gives our clients the flexibility to iterate and grow their applications as their customers react.
Focus On A Challenge
Great applications and experiences solve a problem for their audience. A product configuration app makes it easier to make choices. An app built to make a blog mobile friendly makes it easier to absorb content on the move. Whatever you are doing, make sure that you are solving a relevant problem for your audience. Solve a problem, and you will earn new customers and spread your app/service via word of mouth.
Wireframe and Paper Prototype
Before we start any development, and after we identify challenges that need solutions, we start organizing our ideas into rough wireframes. Wireframes are simple sketches of app interfaces with notes about functionality, and help us figure out how we are going to make use of available space, organize our applications, and see how things start to come together. Wireframes allow us to rapidly iterate through user interfaces without worrying about polishing design or building anything in Xcode. It saves time over iterating through photoshop or actual code because when you are making progress you throw a lot away. Save yourself the headaches.
After you feel good about your wireframes, use the same methodology to build paper prototypes of your apps. Using notecards labeled #1 – #x sketch out your basic UI, and for each button mark what notecard you jump to when clicking. It is a great way to walk people through the app who were not part of the planning process to see if they understand what they are seeing. If you’ve missed something in your planning, this is a great way to find it.
Build The Fundamentals – Take Small Bites
With any development project, there is an urge to plan every detail and build “the perfect app.” If you have an unlimited budget, no launch timeframe, and a client willing to work with you for a year or two to get to market, that’s a great way to do it.
If, however, you are trying to prove an idea, gather feedback from your customers, and grow your app organically, then consider limiting your focus. Look at your wish list of features and select the items that your app can not live without. Trim all the “it would be nice if” features and focus on the items that can not be sacrificed. Do this, and you can focus on the core of your application and getting it to market.
When you are ready with an early beta, get it in front of prospective customers. Use a service like TestFlight to put it out there and gather feedback. Early adopters talk about the new things they get to experience before anybody else. Take their feedback, filter what they have to say into a list of items that will solve problems or correct key omissions. Resist the urge to add features at this stage, and once you have a stable application, Release It.
Respond To Your Market – Iterate
The nature of the market is now centered around getting an app out, and iterating. Updates become reminders of your existence, and new features highlighted in updates generate interest and word-of-mouth “buzz”. It’s no longer about creating a giant feature list, building for a year, launching and moving on. iOS app development is about creating the essential functionality of an app first, then endlessly polishing and adding relevant utility.
As you hear from your customers about what they want, that is the time to prioritize your internal wish list, add features desired by the general community, and grow.
Use Metrics. Learn.
If possible, one key item that you should make sure to add is non-intrusive, and non-tracking, analytics. There is a great API for Google Analytics available for iOS (and for web-based apps). Used responsibly, you can track when your customers are using your app, what features they are using most, and what errors they are receiving. This kind of feedback is invaluable when it comes to figuring out how people are interacting with you, and may give you a different picture of usage than you get from your more vocal users.
Do It Again
This methodology will allow you to get a concept to market quickly, test its viability in the case of an application for sale, and evaluate whether or not you want to invest more in your application to help it grow. If nothing else you’ve learned something from the experience, and have something under your belt with which to base more concepts or pitch as a future project.