A step-by-step guide to the app development process

14 minutes to read • Last updated 26 February 2021 • Published 18 January 2021 • App development, Digital strategy

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    In the age of smartphones and tablets, apps are arguably the biggest growth sector in the online world. Almost 9 million apps are in circulation across over 300 app stores. It stands to reason that any business will want to part of this zeitgeist.

    Making an app is not necessarily easy, though. If you’re going to maximise your investment in time and expense, you’ll need to follow particular protocols.

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    Without further ado, let’s set out a 12-step guide to creating an app. This will cover everything you need to know, from the genesis of an idea to watching your app perform out in the marketplace.

    Contents

    App development process

    1. Consider why you’re making an app

      If you’re going to dedicate time, effort and money into making an app, you need to consider why.

    2. Come up with an idea

      Now you have decided that you want to create an app, you need an idea.

    3. Scope out your competition

      Once you have an idea, start investigating your competition. Don’t be disheartened if you find dozens, or even hundreds, of competitors already on the marketplace.

    4. Visualise your dream app

      Gather your team together for a brainstorm about everything you would like your app to offer a user.

    5. Assign a budget

      You will need to set a budget for your app and stick to it.

    6. Mock up the design of your app

      Time to prototype! Think about how you’d like your app to look and work and sketch this out on paper.

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    7. Begin the UI design process

      A UI (user interface) designer will need to take your sketches and ideas and turn them into reality.

    8. Build your app

      Are you going to do this yourself or bring in external support?

    9. Test user experience

      Before you plan to upload your app, you’ll need to ensure that it runs flawlessly.

    10. Submit your app to online stores

      The time has come – take a deep breath and submit your app.

    11. Market your app

      There are countless ways that you can market an app without accruing excessive further expenses.

    12. Review performance and improve where necessary

      You need to vigilantly review the performance of your app. That means keeping an eye on essential KPIs, and perhaps more importantly, monitoring user reviews.

    1. Consider why you’re making an app

    No successful app has ever been created just for the merry heck of it. If you’re going to dedicate time, effort and money into making an app, you need to consider why.

    There are definite advantages to having an app for your business. These include:

    • Apps reduce the need for mobile web browsing, which in turn means you can spend less time optimising a website for the ever-changing portable appliance market
    • Apps can be customised to the preferences of the user, making a more tailored experience that encourages continued use
    • Apps are typically up to 1.5 times faster and more responsive than websites
    • Apps can send push notifications straight to the smartphone or tablet of a user, ensuring they are immediately alerted to new content or offers
    Should every business have an app?
    No, an app is not a necessity for every business. Before committing to the production process of an external app, investigate whether a Progressive Web Application (WPA) will meet your needs just as efficiently – if not better. If you are ready to commit to creating an app, however, read on.

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    2. Come up with an idea

    Now you have decided that you want to create an app, you need an idea. If you already have an online presence and business, this is comparatively simple. You could treat your app as a portable alternative to a website. Ask yourself if your app could offer more, though.

    Think about everything you are looking to achieve with an app, and how you can go about it. There are three key questions to ask yourself here to provide inspiration.

    • What are some common pain points for users that your app could resolve?
    • What personal challenges and difficulties do you experience that you wish an app would resolve?
    • What popular apps are almost perfect, but you feel could be improved upon?

    Whichever of these avenues you decide to explore, it needs to be the mission statement for your app going forward.

    3. Scope out your competition

    Once you have an idea, start investigating your competition. Don’t be disheartened if you find dozens, or even hundreds, of competitors already on the marketplace. With 9 million apps out there in the world, that is inevitable. Your priority should not be on creating something wholly unique. Instead, worry about improving upon what is already on offer.

    To achieve this, look at what your competition is doing. Download as many apps as you can use them yourself. Note down your user experience and how you feel it could be enhanced. Also, take a look at reviews and feedback. This can be an invaluable window into what your target audience like – or otherwise – about competing apps. If you can offer more of the good and less of the bad, you are already onto a winner.

    You should also take the opportunity to look at how your competitors are marketing their popular apps. If an app cracks to charts of a major app store like the iOS or Google Play stores, they are doing something right. Combine imitation with innovation to devastating effect.

    See also →  App Store Optimisation – everything you need to know about getting started with ASO

    4. Visualise your dream app

    This is the fun part of the app creation process. At this stage, you’re just spitballing –anything is possible. Gather your team together for a brainstorm about everything you would like your app to offer a user. Key things to consider here include:

    • Who is your target audience? 
    • Are you looking for domestic users or an international experience?
    • What you would like the app to offer users?
    • How you would like the app to work?
    • How should the app look and feel?
    • What should be the core features and functions of the app?
    • How will the app represent your brand?
    • How will the app work in unison with the rest of your online presence?

    At this stage, anything goes – there are no bad ideas. Remember, this is the dream app. Reality is going to bite soon enough though, so assign priorities to what features you consider most indispensable. As we’ll discuss in steps 5 and 6, you may run into logistical roadblocks before you even get started with the programming of the app.

    5. Assign a budget

    Monetary concerns can be the enemy of creativity. All the same, you will need to set a budget for your app and stick to it. It’s easy for costs to start spiralling out of control, which can have a significant impact on your return on investment.

    See also →  4 reasons to shift your business culture towards design thinking

    The truth is, there is no set value assigned to how much an app could cost to develop. It all depends on how ambitious you are, and how much outside help you’ll need. If you are going to bring in external designers and UX specialists, be sure to factor this expense into your initial budget. You will also need to consider a marketing budget – though as we’ll discuss in step 11, you can market your app without spending.

    6. Mock up the design of your app

    Time to prototype! Think about how you’d like your app to look and work and sketch this out on paper. Consider how much data you would like on each screen. Consider how you will divide different parts of the app into separate tabs or screens. Weigh up the ideal navigation for your app – would you like a tab bar at the bottom of the screen or a sliding process?

    Take a look at our in-depth guide to prototyping.

    A note on app branding →
    Even the branding needs to be considered. Ensure that your company logo is included somewhere on the app and that you utilise tricks of the psychology of branding.

    At this stage, you’re likely to learn what is going to be possible and what is beyond the remit of usability. As with the previous step, you may need to sacrifice some ideas and dreams at this stage. While that may feel initially disheartening, it’s preferable to committing time and finance to a design that is not fit for purpose.

    7. Begin the UI design process

    Now the real work starts. A UI (user interface) designer will need to take your sketches and ideas and turn them into reality. This means giving significant consideration to the user interface design of your app. 

    The user interface of your app is the first thing that a user will encounter, so you’ll need to make a good impression. Just like websites can endure high bounce rates, some apps are met with a disgruntled sigh and deleted upon their first use.

    Unless you have an in-house team of graphic designers, you’ll probably need external help for this step. Hire a freelance designer, providing them with a brief of exactly what you are going to need from your app. Yes, this will cost money. If you get the right designer and create a successful app though, you’ll see a significant return on your investment.

    8. Build your app

    Ready to start building your app? Great. You still have choices to make, though. Are you going to do this yourself or bring in external support? Are you looking for the app to run on iOS or Android? If the latter, you’ll need to practice cross-platform app development. Android and iOS use different coding languages.

    Essentially, you have five options open to you at this stage of your journey.

    Development optionGood to know…
    Learn how to code and build the app yourselfThis is the cheapest option, and it will leave you with some valuable transferable skills, but it is very time-consuming. If you do not have experience in identifying and resolving issues with code, it can also be incredibly frustrating.
    Hire a freelancer to build the appThis will involve you project-managing the app construction, while the freelancer completes the nuts and bolts of the work. It’s less time-consuming than coding the app yourself, but you will still need to be involved in every step of the build.
    Hire an app development agency like Creative.onlWill offer consultancy and project management services. This is the core difference between a development company and a freelancer. Experienced professionals in such a business will take the weight of the workload from your shoulders, following your brief but offering advice that ensures your app is flawless and user-friendly.
    Use online app building software, such as AppInstituteAppy Pie or AppSheet.These businesses are the app equivalent of websites services like SquareSpace or Wix –they provide a template for an app, and you make cosmetic amendments. This will not create a unique-looking app, but it should work. The service will likely charge you a monthly hosting fee. If you fail to pay this, your app will be withdrawn from sale.
    Purchase the template of an existing app and amend itThis involves rewriting the code and offering additional customisations. In many respects, this is an amalgamation of all the options we have already discussed. It’s cheaper and less time-consuming than hiring a freelancer or app design company to work from scratch, but you will need to pay a one-off fee for the template
    Different ways to develop an app

    Review these options and decide which is best for your business model. This is not a decision to rush, so take your time and weigh up all the pros and cons. If you need further advice, we are always on-hand.

    9. Test user experience

    Before you plan to upload your app, you’ll need to ensure that it runs flawlessly. If you upload a bug-laden, flawed app, this will be reflected in user feedback. For a new app on the market, an avalanche of poor reviews can be fatal. Also, if you wish to upload to the iOS store your app will be subjected to numerous, vigorous tests by Apple before being approved for listing. 

    10. Submit your app to online stores

    The time has come – take a deep breath and submit your app. There will be a cost involved here, so ensure you’re ready for this. The iOS store, for example, charges US$99 per year – though this cost includes membership of the Apple Developer Program, which provides access to numerous tools. The Google Play store is much cheaper, with a one-off fee of US$25.

    These two are undoubtedly the biggest dogs in the yard when it comes to app store downloads, but do not limit yourself to these platforms. Yes, iOS and Google Play have the most users but they also have the most products available. Your app may be lost in the noise.

    Other, smaller app stores may not enjoy quite the same reach, but it is easier to found on these stores. This will potentially increase word-of-mouth about your offering. It only takes one influential figure to sing the praises of your app to reach a whole new audience.

    11. Market your app

    If people do not know about your app, they will not download it. As we have mentioned multiple times now, there is no shortage of competition in the app store world. If you’re going to stand out from the competition, you’ll need to ensure that your voice is being heard.

    There are countless ways that you can market an app without accruing excessive further expenses. Some examples include:

    • Promote your app on your website and social media feeds
    • Create newsletters and marketing emails that promise more through your app
    • Ask users – and friends and family – for reviews
    • Pitch tech-specialist magazines and websites, asking them to cover your app
    • Enter app-specific award competitions
    • Ask notable influencers to use and discuss your app online
    • Use a platform like Disqus to get the word out about your app
    • Create offers and promotions that can only be accessed through your app
    Don’t forget App Store Optimisation →
    Perhaps the most important element of all is app store optimisation. This is the equivalent of SEO practice for app store listings. By using unique language – including UX microcopy – you can help your app stand out from the pack when users conduct a generic search.

    12. Review performance and improve where necessary

    Finally, you can sit back, enjoy watching the downloads of your app rise and wait for the revenue to start rolling in. That’s the theory, at least. In reality, you need to vigilantly review the performance of your app. That means keeping an eye on essential KPIs, and perhaps more importantly, monitoring user reviews.

    It’s no secret that the internet can be a harsh mistress, and you may not consider all reviews of your app to be fair and just. All the same, they will be out there for all to see. If users are criticising the functionality of your app, you need to take action. 

    One complaint amidst a sea of five-star reviews can be shrugged off. Countless users experiencing the same issue points to a fundamental flaw, though. This should be rectified in an update.

    Remember what we said back in step 3. It’s not only you – or potential users – that investigate the reviews of your app. There will no shortage of competing developers with a similar idea to your own, and they will not think twice about prioritising a fix to a problem that you are unable or unwilling to provide. Do not give them this opportunity. Use feedback to ensure that your app is the best it can be.

    This guide should have provided you with the tools you need to get started on your app creation journey. If you still need assistance, do not hesitate to reach out to us. Our experienced team are experts in app creation and will assist throughout the process. 

      Check prices for app development

      Is this your first time making an app?


      What prices do you need?

      Step 1 of 3

      App development (make an app)App designMarketingWebsite designGraphic designSomething else


      When would you like to get started?

      Step 2 of 3

      Now1-3 months3-6 months6+ months


      Good news! We can help

      Step 3 of 3

      Complete your details to get your free quotes





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