Building a mobile application is less about writing an application and more about creating a compelling experience that allows your users to accomplish a goal in 20 seconds or less while they are out in the world. Once you have created an application monitoring user’s experiences and tweaking the application to improve that experience becomes the goal. When your users fall in love with your application, you want to enable them to share their thoughts via social media with all their friends.
Most apps fail in the first few seconds, of the first app load. The goal is to keep a user interested and engaged by meeting their expectations and allowing them to implicitly know how to interact with the application. A user requires substantial progress towards their goals to remain engaged or they will lose interest. The question is how do we do it?
The High Level Process
- Identify your Top 5 Use Cases
- Understand the HIG for the platform for which you are building your application
- Draw up your UI Design and interact with it on paper
- Get other people to interact with your Design and iterate
- Build a quick Proof of Concept of your UI and get others to interact with it
- Design your Analytics metrics for each view of your UI with specific goals
- Build your application
- Ask users for Reviews in the app stores and sharing via social media
- Monitor your Reviews, Metrics, and Social channels
- Rinse and Repeat
Identify your Top 5 Use Cases
The best way to start is by identifying the top 5 use cases for your application. If you are a Registrar, these would be, searching for a domain, purchasing a domain, managing the domain, and the other two would depend on who you talk to. Currently, I would say giving people access to their non-IMAP free Go Daddy email accounts and calendar.
Once you have identified the top 5 Use cases for your app, you need to design the interaction for these use cases. This is the tricky part. You want to create something that is appealing to the user but isn’t hard to learn how to use. The best way to do this is with the HIG.
Understand the HIG for the platform for which you are building your application
The HIG stands for Human Interface Guidelines. Every mobile platform worth developing for has a HIG (Apple, Android). The HIG spells out the common user interfaces provided in the SDK (Software Development Kit) and how the user should interact with them. Having this understanding is essential when designing your application, as you don’t want to create new interactions that users don’t know how to use. Other great places for ideas are top apps in the app store. The applications that everyone already has and are trained how to use can provide design ideas as well. (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Path, StumbleUpon, eBay, Kayak) The reality is though, you won’t know how good your design is until you interact with it and watch other interact with it.
Draw up your UI Design and interact with it on paper
The easiest way to start your interaction testing is to draw up your interface the same size as it would display on a phone and use the application as if it were already coded. You will find flagrant flaws immediately.
Get other people to interact with your Design and iterate
After you have done this with a few iterations, watch someone else interact with your application, try to build a set of questions to help verify that the user can identify the top 5 use cases and understands how to interact with them. This testing is one of the most critical portions of the application development process as it is very easy to make changes at this stage. Listen to the comments from your test users and you may end up with a very different take on the top 5 Use Cases you should be supporting with your application.
Build a quick Proof of Concept of your UI and get others to interact with it
Once you are satisfied with what you have created on paper, there are a couple of paths that you can go down:
- Download the Apple or Android SDK and build the layout to do further testing on your phone (Technical)
- Hand your design over to a developer and have them create a quick build for you that is just the design with functioning interaction transitions (Non Technical)
Once you have this quick proof-of-concept, let a few more test users interact with your application and further refine the experience. With these iterations, you should be prepared for some heartache as you may find that what you have created is not working out as well as you had hoped. But cheer up, at least you didn’t build the full application yet! You can spend as much time iterating on the UI as you like, but, at some point you will decide it is time to code this app up and make it a reality.
Design your Analytics metrics for each view of your UI with specific goals
Before you hop to that final step you will want to take some of the things you have learned in your usability testing and come up with the metrics you want to track in your application. Your design has been dictated by how you want your users to interact with your application. Now you need to decide what metrics you want to focus on and how you want to gather and aggregate the data. There are a number of analytics tools out there. The most highly recommended is Flurry. Google Analytics also currently has an offering in beta that may be worth looking into if you are already familiar with GA. I would recommend coming up with a strategy for goal tracking on a view-by-view basis. So if your user gets dumped onto a Domain Search page and the goal is to get them to search for a domain, create a metric that tracks how many users executed a search or how long it took them to execute a search. If you find that the task is taking an average user 30 seconds to complete and 30% of them are not completing a search, there may be a problem you will want to evaluate. I bring up analytics now because it is really a continuation of usability testing. You will just be testing as all your users interact with your application and improving it as time goes on.
Build your application
By this point, you are ready to build the first iteration of your application and get it published. You will have a solid way of judging how users are interacting with your application once it is in their hands and should have the ability to follow up and improve the experience. If you want to take your app to another level, then we can talk about App Reviews and Social integrations.
Monitor your Reviews, Metrics, and Social channels
The App Review is a key way to get feedback from your users. It creates a promotional tool to help encourage other users to download your application and it can give users a way to let you know about issues or future features they would like to see. You will want to request your users provide you a review after some number of uses. If you don’t, you won’t get reviews and you want reviews. If a person likes your application, they will naturally want to promote it, and if they don’t, they will tell you why. Both have opportunities.
Having a social integration can also be very useful. Allowing users to tweet or post to Facebook when they publish their website can create a valuable way of notifying their friends of their accomplishment and serve as a promotional tool for your application.
Rinse and Repeat
This is just what it sounds like. Now that you’ve done it once, you can do it again and again.