Articles in the ‘Web Design’ Category

So, you want an app?

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to meet Josh Clark at FOWD. I’d been reading his articles about flagship apps and content first, and I was very keen to have a chat with him about a discussion I’d had with a client. I had been discussing which platform they should be targeting, and depending upon who I was talking to at the client (and their opinions on the goals of the project) the decision on a choice of platform was different.

Josh, and his mobile vs native talk, positioned this decision as an “audience/content/budget” question, which matched the conversations I’d been having with my client. At the end of his talk I said to Josh, “this would make a great flow-chart, like that one that Jessica Hische did!”, “Yeah, that’d be awesome!”, said Josh.

I’m very pleased to say, that after some delay, it’s ready for public consumption.

So, you want an app?

With a lot of help from my company and colleagues Ed Hartwell-Goose,  Fin Edridge and Simon Dring we made an interactive flow-chart to guide our clients, other industry professionals and their clients through the minefield that is choosing the platform for your app. We called it, “So, you want an app?”.

It’s still a simplification of the whole process but, in researching it, three things became abundantly clear:

  1. You must know your audience – there are no exceptions to this. People use different phones for very different things. Blackberries are used by teenagers for BBM and by corporations because of it’s security and low data usage; iPhones are very high-end consumer devices; and Android phones are thought of as being for very technically minded people, but they’re also entry-level smart phones. Picking a platform without knowing what your content and its audience is a recipe for disaster.
  2. Your content needs to be simple to access – all end-points on the flow-chart will need some form of content platform behind them to drive engagement, re-use and to keep the app up-to-date. If you’ve got an old CMS, you may have to build a light-weight web service to let your app access the content easily, quickly and efficiently. People use apps to get at content, and whether they’re a game or social media, your content is king.
  3. You cannot do this half-heartedly – and by that I mean you’ve got to have a decent budget. Also at FOWD, Matt Gifford was joking that the £50 website was now a £75 website; apps are suffering this problem. Apps are viewed as small, simple bits of functionality that you can knock-up in a weekend; this is simply not true. Apps are often full-sized websites with the added complexity of fitting the core content onto a tiny screen, but since they look small clients think they’re easy to make and do, and are therefore cheap. Stories in the news of 14-year-olds making games in the app store top 10 aren’t helping either. Start with a 5-figure sum, and keep going upwards if you want your app to really succeed.

I also mention PhoneGap a lot in the flow-chart, and that’d because I genuinely believe it’s a great solution to the “discoverability” problem. This is where you have a mobile web site that isn’t getting enough exposure as people think of “apps” as items in the “app store”. PhoneGap fills this hole nicely, and gives you access to device hardware as a brilliant bonus. The tools are easy to use and PhoneGap Build now takes all of the hard bits of building for Blackberry and Windows Phone away.

Still, there are gray areas in the platform selection process, especially when it comes to tight budgets and enterprise apps. If there’s only one thing you take away from this tool it should be this: Content is King, know your audience and how they will use your app. The rest flows from there.

You can find the tool here: www.paconsulting.com/so-you-want-an-app – I’ll post the full poster version here when it’s completed.

Please, let me know what you think, and let me know if you use it for a client as well, share your stories and share the tool with your friends.

 

Handling iPhone App Ideas

There’s one question that I get asked a lot:

I’ve got this great idea for an app…… what do you think?

I run the mobile development team at my employer, a role that I really enjoy and feel privileged to be doing. I get to work with cutting edge technology, forward-thinking clients and brilliant developers and user experience experts. There’s always a flip side, and for this role it is filtering out the bad ideas from the good ones.

I've got an idea for an app

The process
I have a simple process for capturing and evaluating ideas: listen, write it down and do a quick estimate of effort and benefits. If the benefits do not heavily outweigh the effort, say thank you and move on.

That’s it in a nutshell, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Lets step through the process.

Ideas
An idea will come from one of two sources:

  1. The media, or
  2. A personal need

Ideas based in the media
The request goes a bit like this:

Hi Steve, have you seen this article about this cool iPhone/android app? Well, I think we could do something similar (for the other platform)! It’d be great for [publicity/marketing/a demo/this client I have/making lots of money]. What do you think?

If I get a request like this alarm bells start ringing in my head. Clearly, someone else has already done this, and therefore has 3-6 months development time ahead if we were to start developing a rival app. Requests based on the media tend to be for porting android apps to iOS, and unless it’s an android-only developer, there’s likely to be a good reason why there’s no iOS version. Take the BBC 3G strength meter app. It’s only on android and I was asked if we could do an iPhone version. The answer was simply “no”. The long answer was, “do you really think the BBC wouldn’t have tried to make an iOS version? Of course they would have. It’s not possible. iOS doesn’t allow you that level of access to the phone’s hardware.”

The only time that an idea from the media would meet the benefits/effort threshold is if there was a direct client opportunity and the idea came from demand, rather than porting an app. Augmented Reality was a big buzz topic a few years ago, but finding a useful application for it for a client was a challenge, hence I didn’t make an AR app.

So, unless there’s a direct need for an app, it’ll go into my big black book of ideas for a rainy day.

My big black book of ideas

Ideas from personal need
The best ideas for apps come from genuine need. You can quote me on that. When someone comes up to me and says,

I’ve got this problem, I need to …… I thought it could work as an app?

I listen and I’m always much more hopeful. If someone has a need, then you can bet that other people have that need too. It may be something like large manuals or reference information for a specific sport e.g. SCUBA diving, or an app that collects a lot of information together and displays it usefully. These are the kinds of apps that I like people to talk to me about, and that straight away get to the top of the to-do list.

Which app to do first?
This is a tricky question, but it should be one that you can answer. Follow this formula:

Potential audience * USP / effort

  1. Your potential audience, on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is “just you” and 10 is “every phone owner”
  2. USP (Unique Selling Point) on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is “It’s a twitter app” and 10 is “best idea ever, never been done before, it’ll revolutionise the way we live”
  3. Effort is a 1-10 scale of how long it’ll take you to make the USP work (1 is short time, 10 is long time). It is not how long until you can get a first release out, it is how much effort will it take to create the hook for users.

So, for a basic twitter app, you will end up with a formula of 8*1/4 = 2. For an app for flight controllers, you’d get 3*7/7 = 3, so you’d be better-off spending your time on the flight controllers app. Either way, they’re both not very high scores, so you may want to keep looking for better ideas.

Yes, I know it’s a contrived example, and that it won’t apply in every case, but give it a go if you are given a few ideas and don’t know which one to do.

What next?
Once you’ve got your good idea, don’t ignore any other ideas that come your way. Keep writing them down, keep doing the analysis, and you’ll always have an idea in your pocket to fall back upon. You may have so many good ideas that you’ll have to hire some more developers to work on more apps, and that is a very good problem to have.

Future of Web Design Sketchnotes – Day 2

Over the last few days I attended the Future of Web Design conference in central London. It was a great two days meeting some of my peers and heroes of web design. Here’s my notes from Day 2, featuring Ethan Marcotte, Femi Adesina, Josh Clark, Bruce Lawson, Martin Beeby (from #LWSIE the day before), Elliot Jay Stocks, Sarah B Nelson and once again, Josh Clark!

Sketchnotes for Day one can be found behind this link.

Thank you once again to everyone involved.