The Process of Building Mobile Applications: Design then Develop
The Benefits of Designing your Mobile App before Developing
To build the best mobile applications, you must start at the beginning and effectively design the product that you are interested in building. Just as you cannot run until you learn how to walk, you cannot develop before you design. So why do so many people jump straight into development and skip over the design process? Probably because they want to get the app out as fast as possible. However, this approach comes with a price. Without designs, developers are left to figure out the app themselves, leaving room for usability errors that might frustrate your customers, as well as a backend that works for the current feature set but doesn’t take into account features needed down the road. While jumping straight into development sounds like a faster way to create your app, it will ultimately cost more time and money. Here are 6 benefits to designing a mobile app before you develop it.
1. Functionality over Speed
While jumping straight into a development phase may seem tempting, it could come at a cost of usability. The design process envelopes user experience design (ux design) which is the process of designing screens focusing on the interactions between the user and the product. This stage is to ensure that the app is usable, interactions are clear, and flows make sense so that the users enjoy the experience of interacting with the app. Developers are not as knowledgable in this area, so jumping straight into the development process without designs leaves room for frustrating experiences. The app will be built, but users will not want to use it if it is not easy for them. The app will then need to be designed and then developed again, which will cost more money than having it designed first, and you may have lost users with the poor user experience to begin with. It may seem like designs will push your timeline back, but in the end, having your mobile app designed first will be worth it.
2. Get User Feedback with a Functional Prototype
One bonus to having your app designed before it is developed is that it can be shown to potential users to get their feedback. Designs can be uploaded to a software called Invision, where functionality can be added to make the designed screens simulate a working mobile app that can be downloaded to the phone. This can be shown to users so you can see first hand how they would interact with it. You can also gather information on if they would use the app, if the features are what they are looking for in the type of app being created, and what changes they would make to the app to make it more useful for them. This time spent with the users is invaluable, as you can validate your proof of concept, prove that people want the app you are creating, and make any needed changes to features before the app is developed. If the app was developed before user research, time and money would have been spent on features that users might not want. With designs, it is quicker and easier to make updates to show to users to receive feedback.
3. Discover Hidden Functionalities
Many people come into the design and development process with features they want to be included in the app without knowing the scope of it. It’s simple to say that you want a place in the app where the user can add an image. But can the user add more than one image? Can they add a video? Can they edit their image within the app? Should they be able to crop it? Can they add a caption? Can other people interact with it? Each of these requests may seem simple, but all of these capabilities are not clearly outlined. By designing the app, you are able to visualize the features and functions that are needed for a user to properly interact with it. During the design phase, you might discover a feature that is critical to your app that you didn’t think of. You might also discover an alternative and better method to a feature that you wanted to include.
4. Develop a Roadmap of Features
Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, your app can’t be built in a day. Many people use the term MVP (most viable product) to help determine the simplest core feature set of a product that allows it to be usable and nothing more. Take for example Instagram, when they first launched, their main capability was uploading an image and adding a caption. Over the years they have added the ability to upload multiple images, a video, and/or stories. If they had waited to launch their app until all of these capabilities were possible, someone else might have come into the market before them. During the designing phase, you can plan out features that need to be added to the app down the road to help create a roadmap of where you want the app to go. You can also use the designs to help figure out which features are necessary to start out, and which can wait until after launch.
5. Have Developers Understand your Idea
It is hard to understand an abstract idea. Love is just a concept until you actually experience the feeling, just like your app idea is just a concept until you actually see it. Handing over an app idea to a developer is like handing over an abstract concept. You can see the idea and envision what it is like in your head, but telling that idea to someone else doesn’t mean they will envision the same thing as you. Designing an app turns your abstract idea into a concrete idea. You have a physical representation of your idea that you can use to explain to others. There isn’t any room for interpretation of what a “dashboard” should include because it is in the designs. If you leave room for interpretation, developers might not code it the way you thought in your head, but, if you give them a functional prototype, they can see how screens connect, what components are included and how the app works functionally. With designs, you are guaranteed to get an app that looks and acts the way you want, instead of risking that the developers understand your abstract idea.
6. Use the Functional Prototype to get Funding
One key benefit to having your app designed is that you can show it to investors to help get funding. You have a functional prototype, so instead of pitching to investors what the app could do, show it to them. If investors are able to see the same vision you have, they are more likely to invest their time, energy, and money in helping you succeed. Have you ever seen someone go on Shark Tank with just an idea? No. They always have the product with them to demonstrate its usefulness. With a designed functional prototype, you can do the same. The money from investors can help you get the app developed and out into the market. So instead of spending 4 times the amount of money getting the app developed to show to people, you can get the app designed, get a functional prototype, and obtain investment to help your vision become a reality.
The benefits of having your mobile app designed before it is developed are apparent. You get a roadmap for future development, a functional prototype to show to users and investors, and ultimately the app of your dreams. Based on these outlined areas, we highly suggest investing the time and effort in outlining the design and user experience of applications before beginning the development process.
Erica Holmsen is the lead UX/UI designer at Lithios. She specializes in developing simple mobile and web experiences that delight. In her free time she dabbles in professional alligator wrestling.