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Best Practices on How to Design and Develop an App in 2021

More than 218 billion apps were downloaded worldwide last year and the trend shows an increase every year. In fact, just 4 years ago the mobile app revenue was at 285 billion US dollars and is expected to reach almost 700 billion US dollars in 2021.

There’s money to be made if you own an app, but the competition is fierce and it’s important to deploy the optimal strategy for your app, otherwise your time and money will be poorly spent.

If you are interested in building an app and making sure it stands out from the competition, you must have an outstanding app design and utilize senior app development techniques that will leave your competitors in the dust.

Source: pinterest.com

The best apps all have a modern and simple user interface, an easy way to navigate the app and absolutely no, zilch, zero show-stopper bugs. A skilled app development agency can help you get the most out of each of these important attributes.

Before you contact an app development agency or a freelance developer, it’s wise to understand the app development process so you’re not jumping in blind-folded. Our guide will walk you through the process so you know exactly what it takes to be a winner.

Phase 1: The beginnings

1. Brainstorm your app

Having a carefully considered plan is going to build the foundation for everything that is coming later, so you need to do your homework before calling the designers and developers.

Keep these points in mind when you brainstorm:

  1. What are the core features your app should help solve?
  2. What are your competitors currently offering?
  3. Why would users switch to your app? What features will you include to make it stand out?

These 3 points are the fundamental questions you should be answering in the early phase. 

Once you have these written down, you can always refer to them later as your milestones for the following phases.

2. Write down the basics and form a strategy

After thinking about the answers to the questions above, expand and add more detail to each. 

What do you want your app users to focus on, what’s less important and should be put on a sub-page?

Consider how your app is going to make you money. There are pros and cons to each payment structure.

Completely free

Maybe you want the app to be free to the user and paid for by in-app advertising banners. There are several mobile advertising platforms and they each offer their own monetization structure. Check Google AdMob, AdColony, StartApp, UnityAds, and Epom to see which works for you.

You should also consider the type of in-app ad style you want to include. There are:

  • Banners (small rectangular ads embedded on the app screens)
  • Interstitial ads (appear when switching between screens)
  • Native ads (designed to look like part of the app and less intrusive)
  • Video ads (can offer rewards for clicking)
Source: inspirevisual.com

One-time payment

Require a one-time payment for unlimited use of your app. This used to be the only alternative to free apps, but their popularity has dwindled with the introduction of subscription and micro transaction payments.

Ongoing subscription

This is the most popular revenue generating model for apps, especially on the Apple store. In 2020 annual spending on the top 100 subscription apps in the United States, was led by Apple’s App Store at 4.5 billion US dollars followed by Google’s Play Store at 1.4 billion US dollars.

Micro transactional payments

Another very popular payment method and only surpassed by subscription based payments. Micro transactions are small payments within the app that expand the features of the app, either for lifetime or for a limited time. This is an especially popular method used by gaming publishers.

3. Do in-depth analysis of your competition

Research of your competition is a critical step in the process of app development. It’s essential to understand the market niche of your app and to determine the competition. There is a lot of selection and competition in the app world, so you’re going to want to make sure you have a truly unique idea.

It doesn’t matter if there are many apps already available and similar to your app idea, because yours could be the one to beat them all.

By spending some time looking at your competitors’ apps, you’ll be able to find out their weaknesses and if you read the reviews, you’ll also find out what people want that is not already in the app.

Based on your research, add features that they don’t have, because that’s what you are going to emphasize when you promote your app

No one is going to switch to your app if it’s just a carbon copy of an already existing app, but they’ll quickly be on-boarding if you are offering useful extras.

Phase 2: Now it’s time to Design and Develop

4. Visualize the App

Wireframes are simple drafts created to outline the look and feel of your app. They are similar to blueprint drawings for a building, except that they outline every screen, interactive object and the interactions between them.

While wireframes can be put down on paper initially, it’s recommended to use one of the many online tools. Digital wireframes will make it much easier to make changes, especially as your wireframes become more detailed and complex in structure.

Once your wireframes are completed, you can share them with your friends, colleagues and team members for feedback on the navigation and structure of your app. If there are any show stoppers this is the time to find out, before you move onto the design and development of the actual app. Making changes in a wireframe tool is much more costly and time effective than having to do it later.

If you have no idea what tools are available, don’t fret. We’ve got a list of the 3 best coming up.

All the wireframe tools listed are top contenders in their field. They are perfect for laying out an entire app structure and interaction.

These tools are great for beginners with intuitive interfaces and tutorials available for any additional guidance needed.

Axure

Axure is widely popular as a wireframe tool allowing designers and UX gurus to create flowcharts, wireframes and mockups. It can even go a step further by providing the option to build prototypes of apps, meaning functional wireframes that can be navigated by clicking around.

Additionally, it’s possible to add interactive design diagrams and functionality using sitemaps, UIs and HTML.

Another great feature for teams is the option to collaborate with team members and add comments throughout for feedback.

Axure offers templates for setting up wireframes for Android, iOS and web based apps. The blank canvas presented initially can be populated by simple screen layouts and later have animation effects, clickable elements and more added for an impressive visual presentation.

The wireframes can be exported to preview on mobile phones, further improving the app’s functionality and usefulness for testing out concepts.

You can get started with Axure for $300/annually for an individual user or $504/annually per user for a team license with additional features such as co-authoring, revision history and cloud hosting.

Source: axure.com

Moqups

A streamlined visual tool combining diagrams and design in one online solution.

With Moqups it’s possible to wireframe any app you can think of. It also supports mockups, mind maps, diagrams, and prototypes in a small efficient package.

The tool is entirely web based, so it requires an internet connection to build your app project, but most should be able to meet that requirement.

As with the other wireframe tools, it also supports team collaboration. Since it’s all done online there’s no issue working with a remote team placed in different locations in the world.

Moqups offer a Pro plan including 3 users for $192/annually or an Unlimited plan with no limit to the amount of users at $588/annually. They also have a free plan to try it out. It’s limited to 1 project and 200 objects with 5 MB of storage. Each button and graphical representation counts as 1 object, but at least you can try it out.

Source: moqups.com

Mockplus

Introduced in 2018, Mockplus is a relatively new player in the market. It provides wireframing and prototyping on Android, iOS, PC, Mac and Web.

With more than 3000 icons and close to 200 components, there’s plenty of drag and drop elements available to build the interface you are envisioning.

By scanning a QR code, it’s possible to preview wireframes on a real device in real-time. Since it’s all built in HTML the compatibility is pretty much universal and if you are somewhere without an internet connection, wireframes can be downloaded for offline use.

It supports app team collaboration so multiple people can work on it simultaneously.

The price tag is $199/annually for an individual or $1999/annually for a team (10 members max).

Source: mockplus.com

5. Get started on the design

Once you have a sign off on the wireframes starts the fun part: Making your app pretty.

This is a vital step in the success of your app, because you have to make sure your coming app users will really enjoy using your app and not be turned off by an out of date design or just a plain poorly designed app with cut-off content or hard-to-navigate UX design.

Here’s where you decide what color palette you want to be applied to your app and what fonts and icons to use.

If you are a designer yourself you can try sketching up some designs yourself, but you have to know all the limitations of designing for the device(s) you are targeting. You also have to know what the current trends and visual styles are, or even better, what’s soon to come.

Unless you have designed apps before, it’s probably better to hire a professional app designer and work with them. You can suggest your vision and see them bring it to life.

The alternative and probably better option would be to hire an app development company and work with their designer. The advantage of hiring the entire team is that they’ll communicate and be on the same page throughout the project. Hiring people individually can be a recipe for disaster unless you are a pro project manager.

6. Let’s Put the Pieces Together with Development

You’re now at the phase where the design is ready to be handed over to the development team. They will review the technical requirements and choose the best technology stack for the app.

Each developer is assigned a specific module to complete if developing in sprints. Sprints usually are done in two week phases and at the end of each phase the app will be tested by the QA team to be sure no bugs are present for the final release.

During this phase your app is programmed natively for either Android or iOS or as a cross-platform solution for both devices in one source code. Any back-end integration with servers and APIs are also performed in this step.

In addition to the developers another team is also brought in through this phase. They are the Quality Assurance team. More about them in the next phase.

7. Testing, 1-2-3

The Quality Assurance team tests the app throughout development for any bugs, inconsistencies or anything not looking according to the requirements. All issues are logged in a bug tracking tool and sent back to the developer until the issues have been resolved.

Usually app development includes an alpha and beta test phase. The alpha test phase is the test phase described above and is all happening internally.

The beta phase is when your app is almost ready to be launched on the app store. At this point you do a soft launch in a live environment similar to the final environment. The app is hosted on the publisher’s app repository, but in an invite-only status.

A selected group of people are then asked to download the app and give feedback and report any bugs or issues they experience during use.

Once you have gotten feedback from everyone and adjusted the app accordingly, your app is ready for the official launch in the app stores.

8. Launch, it’s time to show the world

All there is left now is getting your app ready for the launch

You have to write descriptions, compile enticing screenshots and videos, figure out what geographic locations your app should be available in and of course the price of your app or payment model.

If you are launching on the Google Play store (for Android devices) there is no review phase before your app is pushed into the store. Apple’s App store does require the app to go through an Apple review first. Fortunately, it’s a quick 1 to 2-day process, so it won’t delay the app release significantly.

Conclusion

Once your app is live, don’t rest on your laurels.

 An app has to be maintained regularly to stay up-to-date and bug-free. Sometimes new programming functions are introduced by Apple or Google and others are removed, so it’s necessary to keep an eye on crash reports coming in and fix any issues immediately.

Developing and maintaining an app is an exciting venture – enjoy your app ride and make it a long lasting one. 

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Michael Frederiksen is a guest blog author and co-founder of Inspire Visual.