Monday 09-03-2015 - 12:22
This is a guest blog by Noreen Aldworth from Apps for Good, an organisation working to change the way technology is taught in schools.
We’re here to give you some ideas to consider when building your app, but before all that there’s one important question you have to ask yourself: is developing an app right for you and your organisation?
There’s no point in building an app just for the sake of it. Successful apps provide a solution to a problem. So the first step is to identify the issue you want to tackle and consider whether building an app would be the best way to tackle that problem.
The best way to understand a problem is to have experience of it yourself – so when coming up with an idea for an app try to think of something that is an ongoing problem for you and other students. It could be queues at the canteen, overdue library books or finding housemates.
Now that you’ve identified the problem you want to solve and are convinced that building an app makes sense, here are our five tips to create an app that students and young people will want to use.
1. Keep it simple
You might think that the more your app can do, the more likely it is to be a success. But the reality is that even tackling one idea effectively involves a huge amount of work - and the best apps often do one thing really well (think WhatsApp for messaging or Instagram for sharing photos). So keep your idea simple and focus on one issue. The team behind the Apps for Good app I’m Okay initially wanted to create an app to help young people going through a wide variety of problems such as bullying, depression, coming out, anorexia and more. However, after being advised by an Apps for Good Expert to narrow their idea, the girls decided the app should focus on helping young LGBT people feeling alone or isolated - an issue that wasn’t already addressed by an app. Even creating an app that focused on one area resulted in a huge amount of work and the team were all in agreement that they couldn’t have done a proper job if they had tried to address multiple issues as originally planned.
2. Get to know your users
User research is an essential part of any app development process, allowing you to understand potential users and what they want from an app. If your target audience is your fellow students, focus on understanding the experiences, expectations and priorities of these potential customers by conducting interviews, building user profiles and developing user stories. It’s also important to research your competition. You need to know what else is available on the market and figure out how your app can improve on what’s already out there.
3. Don’t forget about data
Many great app ideas require data to work and you need to consider whether this data will be created by you, your users or if you’ll get it from another source. The I’m Okay app relies on content generated by its users, who share their personal stories. Another Apps for Good app, ShoreCast, tells users about nearby surf spots and includes information on weather and breaks. Their whole idea relies on the availability of accurate sea and weather data. During the development of their app, the company that was meant to supply the data had a change in policy so the team had to find a new data source before moving forward with their app. Researching the availability of your data is an important step and will let you know if your idea is possible or if you need to switch your app idea to work with data you can access.
4. Make it enjoyable to use
An app shouldn’t need to come with an instruction manual; the best apps are straightforward and simple to use. Think about what the most important feature in the app is and make sure it’s obvious and easy-to-use. Look at lots of other apps to find nice ways of displaying information or finding your way around the app.
Make sure your app looks appealing to its target audience. Think about your user profiles developed during market research. What other products do they use? What design elements might appeal to them? Take all these factors into consideration when designing your app.
5. Have a ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude
It can cost a lot of money to build and maintain an app but you can save by building the first version of the app yourself using tools such as Balsamiq to sketch out your idea and App Furnace or App Shed to build a working prototype. And when it comes to getting the word out about your app, you can save money on a PR agency by telling people about the app yourself. Think about existing networks that you can tap into through your old school, your university or your wider group of friends and family. Social media is a fantastic tool to help you reach out beyond those you already know; simply asking your followers to retweet you and share your app can be surprisingly effective in spreading the word. It’s good to target celebrities or influential people who you think might have an interest in your app and useful if you have a specific ask for them. The I’m Okay team used Twitter to promote their app, direct tweeting LGBTQ organisations and celebrities who support the cause, and even managed to get two retweets from Stephen Fry.
About Apps for Good
Apps for Good is working to change the way technology is taught in schools, empowering students of all backgrounds to create solutions to the problems they care about using technology. To find out more, visit the Apps for Good website.