This article is part 1 of a 2-part series. Be sure to also read Part 2
Did you wake up this morning with a creative idea for the perfect mobile app? One that nobody else has thought of before, and that you are certain will be very popular?
The only problem is, you don’t know how to even begin designing and building an app! Never fear — read this brief guide on the 12 key steps to bring your mobile app idea from your imagination to smartphone screens everywhere.
Step 1: Define Your Goal
Having a great idea is the starting point into every new project. Before you go straight into detailing though, you must clearly define the purpose and mission of your mobile app. What is it going to do? What is its core appeal? What concrete problem is it going to solve, or what part of life is it going to make better?
Defining a clear goal for the app is also going to help you get there faster.
Step 2: Start Sketching
By developing sketches you are laying the foundation for your future interface. In this step you visually conceptualize the main features and the approximate layout and structure of your application.
Having a first rough sketch of your app helps everyone on your team understand the mission. These sketches should be used as reference for the next phase of the project.
Step 3: Research
This research has four main purposes:
- Find out whether there are other apps doing the same thing
- Find design inspiration for your app
- Find information on the technical requirements for your app
- Find out how you can market and monetize your app
While you may think that you have a revolutionary idea, you may get your hopes crushed very quickly. There are more than 1 million apps for Android and iOS, so building something that hasn’t been done before is nearly impossible. Nonetheless you must not get discouraged by those who may playing in the same arena. It is imperative that you focus on your own project and your user acquisition. Learn from the key features and mistakes of your competitors, and drop all other thoughts about them.
There is a great marketplace for designers called Dribbble. Designers use Dribbble to showcase their work to others for feedback and to get inspiration from fellow artists. It is probably my favorite place to look for ideas about design and implementation.
This is also the right time to look into the technical aspects of your mobile app. Find out what your requirements are and get a clear picture of whether your idea is truly feasible or not from a technical standpoint. In most cases there will be an alternative solution to proceed on a slightly different route. This research extends into legal restrictions like copyright and privacy questions, giving you a complete understanding of your situation.
If you have connections in the industry, get an expert opinion on your idea right from the start.
Two other important points are marketing and monetization. Now that you have confirmed the feasibility of your app, you should think about your strategy of getting it out onto the market. Determine your niche — know exactly how you can reach your target user and how you need to approach him to make him see the value and use the app.
Another important consideration is figuring out how your app is going to generate money. Will you charge your user to download it? Or will you offer the app for free but run ads on it? This model would require a large user base, so think about that as well.
There are various ways to monetize an app and it is up to you to decide on the channel you want to use.
Step 4: Create a Wireframe and Storyboard
In this phase your ideas and features fuse into a clearer picture. Wireframing is the process of creating a mockup or prototype of your app. You can find a number of prototyping tools online. The most popular ones are Balsamiq, Moqups, and HotGloo, which allows you to not only drag and drop all your placeholders and representative graphics into place, but also add button functionality so that you can click through your app in review mode.
While you are working on your wireframes you should also create a storyboard for your app. The idea is to build a roadmap that will help you understand the connection between each screen and how the user can navigate through your app.
Step 5: Define the Back End of Your Mobile App
Your wireframes and storyboard now become the foundation of your back-end structure. Draw a sketch of your servers, APIs, and data diagrams. This will be a helpful reference for the developer, and as more people join the project you will have a (mostly) self-explanatory diagram for them to study.
Modify your wireframes and storyboard according to technical limitations, if there are any.
Step 6: Test Your Prototype
Revert to your wireframes and ask friends, family, colleagues, and experts to help you review your prototype. Grant them access to the wireframe and have them give your app a test run. Ask them for their honest feedback and to identify flaws and dead-end links. If possible, invite them to your studio and have them try out the prototype in front of you. Monitor how they use the app, taking note of their actions and adapting your UI/UX to them.
The goal is to concretize your app concept before it goes into the design process! Once you start designing it is much harder to change things around, so the clearer the prototype from the start, the better.
In part 2 you will be introduced to the design process, development, test phase, and release of your shiny new app. Check it out here: A 12-Step Guide to Building Your Very First Mobile App: Part 2