App design can be a fickle mistress, and it's easy to get tunnel vision when you're in the midst of developing a new project. Whether you're a seasoned vet or taking your first foray into app design, ask yourself these five questions before diving any further.
1. Am I making someone's life better?
Your app should be solving a problem that users encounter relatively frequently (like deleting those awkward texts they didnt mean to send). If it's only an occasional problem, they may forget to use the app, or worse, they may not recognize the need for a solution at all.
Don't make up a problem just so you can position your app to solve it. You need to know the nature of real issues in order to create an app that delivers an effective fix. That means doing lots of research from the start of your development process to pinpoint the challenge you're looking to conquer.
Take the time to get to know real users and find out what makes them tick. Then you can get to work improving their lives.
2. Am I really listening to what people want?
People are willing to give you tons of good ideas for improving your app—all you have to do is listen. Get feedback from real-world user segments early and often. Listen to what they're saying without being clouded by your ego. Successful tech products like Slack rose to fame (and fortune) because they weren't afraid to go back to square one and fix things, or scrap a feature altogether because users didn't respond like they'd hoped.
Find out how users interact with the app, how they behave, what they love, and what they hate. Better yet, see for yourself: Visit with users while they test the app so you don't have to rely on time-consuming, sometimes-biased subjective reports.
Keep in mind that while users are willing to give you tons of feedback and guidance, they won't be as keen on doing so if they think they're talking to a wall. Let users know you're listening to them by interacting with them, fixing bugs promptly, or responding to their inquiries quickly. By doing this you let them know how valuable they really are, and you don't risk losing them.
3. Where is my inspiration coming from?
There's nothing wrong with being inspired by another app. We live in an intensely connected world, and collaboration—both within an industry and outside of it—yields better products.
Take a look around the marketplace and see which apps have clean, smooth interfaces or solve interesting problems. Better yet, look at the apps you love to use regularly. Figure out how those designers did what they did, and "steal" some of that inspiration.
4. Is my story really unique?
Storytelling is an art, and it's been with us humans for most of our history. We're wired to respond well to stories; we retain information (and pay attention) better when it's presented in a story format. Whether you like it or not, your app is telling a story. You can control what that story says and who it impacts just by putting a little thought into crafting a compelling plot.
If you're solving a problem (which you should be), then you have a good place to start your story. The visual identity you build for your app—the placement of CTAs, the color schemes, the logos you use—affects both your brand identity and how your app's story progresses.
Whatever story you craft, it needs to be consistent. Every interaction a user has with your app should support and bolster the message you're trying to convey. Each touchpoint is a chance to strengthen your brand image and the perception of your app.
5. Am I using the right design tool?
There are countless tools available to app designers, but they typically use the big two: Photoshop and Illustrator. Try to set your biases aside and look at the strengths and weaknesses of each platform before you settle on which one to use. While familiarity plays a big role, it can't be your only deciding factor. Take a few minutes to explore your options, and match your requirements or preferences to the features each tool offers.
In a saturated marketplace, it's essential to find a way to cut through the noise and make your app stand out. If you have solid answers to these five questions, you're well on your way to creating the next top app.
What question(s) do you ask yourself when embarking on the creation of a new stellar app?