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Five tips on creating a killer app from the brains behind an app that scored 500,000 downloads in three weeks

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Before you sit down behind your computer and before you even consider cutting code, or arranging pixels, you need to really think about your end-user.

Not just contemplate who they are, but really think about their context of use, about their lifestyle, about what their needs might be in relation to your bright idea. Ultimately, you need to know how your app will help them scratch that itch they have.

This way, using your app becomes a habit – weaving itself into their everyday life.

It’s all about the end-user

You can only do this by actually engaging with your end-users face-to-face, going into their homes and workplaces, exploring their habits and understanding the tools they currently use to solve that problem.

You will then have to use this information to consider how your app might fit in their life.

If your bright idea doesn’t fill a need in your end-user’s life, they won’t use it. Yes, they might download it out of curiosity but if the value is not clear to them, they will toss it aside.

This is a sobering thought when you consider how much effort and time goes into an initiative like building an app. This is why you must find out: will people even care?

Once you answer this fundamental question, it’s time to work. It will take hours of sketching, conversation with others, prototyping and iterating on your design and code, to create a truly beautiful, seamless and elegant app that will stand out from the crowd.

There are no quick fixes or shortcuts, and edge-case success out of nowhere is rare, so you can’t bank on that.

Here are five tips on creating a “killer” app.

1. Don’t rely on assumptions

Never assume your idea is so bright that you can jump straight into development and design, without any user feedback.

And, I don’t mean a quick round-table with relatives. You are not your audience and neither are they; you don’t know all the answers.

Exploring the value of the idea with people beyond your social group, before you dive into development is critical. It gives you a priceless reality check on your concept upfront.

2. Get your idea into context

Go into context to research the places your product will be used by people and gain valuable insights for your product design. The information you get from this process will be referred to throughout your development process, so it’s never a waste of time or energy.

With Cook, we went into people’s homes, got them to cook us their favourite recipe for lunch, and then discussed food, managing recipes and cooking in general. This was invaluable and has led to several feature ideas for the app that we had not considered ourselves.

3. Sketch, sketch and sketch some more

Once you have an idea for an app, sketch it out on paper and work it over in your mind.

Before you even step near your PC to design or code, you need to sketch how your idea can be executed and the possible directions in which you can take the design to ensure you are putting together a seamless user flow and experience between screens.

It’s not only cheap, but also helps you not throw too many resources in one single approach. It also comes in handy in communicating and conveying ideas to each other in the team.

4. Create a prototype and have end-users test it

Prototype a working model of your design approach and test it with your target audience, to find out if your design is headed in the right direction. It really helps to have fresh eyes view your design; this is how you identify areas of potential confusion.

This feedback helps set the direction of your product design and importantly helps you to refine your approach; removing anything that is not logical or intuitive. It’s better to find out early and change direction, than to wait till launch and find out the hard way.

5. Trim off the unnecessary bits to make it neat

Iterate, iterate, iterate, on the design – until you have a seamless and elegant user experience.

Refinement, polishing and being brave enough to throw out ideas that you were initially very attached to, takes real discipline.

In this sense, removing instead of adding features is what is critical to delivering a simple and elegant experience. Too many features confuse people. Exercise some discipline and launch with as few features as possible, then expand on success from there.

Jodie Moule is the co-founder the Cook app which scored 500,000 downloads in just three weeks and has scooped several awards. She has also authored the book Killer UX Design, it’s the story of the Cook app and is also a great guide to creating a great user experience when developing apps.

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