How to Build an App

building an app

The success of any app depends on two things: how well it meets the needs of its target users and how enjoyable it is to engage with. But this mission isn’t an easy one. To create an app that’s easy to use and does what it promises, you need a plan. Follow these 10 steps to build an app that will attract and retain users.

1. Establish the App’s Goals and Objectives

Start by identifying the problem(s) you’re trying to solve with your app and define your target users. The best way to do this is by creating user personas, fictional representations of user groups driven by data that reflects their motivations, behaviors, and goals. Personas also provide a foundation for determining the right strategy for monetizing your app, a critical component for building a sustainable app.

Think ahead to your app’s goals and decide on the metrics and KPIs you plan to track once it’s launched. Your KPIs will give you a threshold for success, and having targets will help you adjust your path if you’re not hitting your milestones.

As you’re planning, consider how you’re going to fund the app development. If you plan to seek investors in the early stages of development, it’s a good idea to include your fundraising strategy in your roadmap. 

2. Do Market Research

Once you’ve set your goals, it’s time to validate the market need for your app. Determine who your competitors are and what they offer their customers. Doing market research before you begin development helps you identify the feature sets that will meet your users’ pain points and the market opportunity. By doing your homework up-front, you save time and money and have a laser focus to build what will provide the most value

Your research also helps you to determine a pricing model and validate your monetization strategy. You’ll want to use several resources for your research, including Google Trends, Google Keyword Planner, and others to generate ideas. Then, you’ll fill in the details with surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

3. Craft a Wireframe

Next, you’ll need to build a wireframe. Just like an architectural rendering of a house before it’s built, a wireframe shows the rough layout of your app and the user flow. A wireframe identifies the screens that map out the user journey, allowing stakeholders, developers, and designers to visualize and understand what the user must do to accomplish their goals on the app. You may want to use a tool like Balsamiq, which helps you create professional-looking wireframes.

4. Select a Mobile Platform and Development Method

You have a decision to make when it comes to a mobile app: iOS, Android, or both? Android retains the dominant global market share and is predicted to increase in upcoming years, though the two are nearly equal in the United States market. Building for both on a cross-application platform is cost-effective and saves time — however, you risk a cumbersome user experience if your app uses built-in device functionality. Building a native app for each platform leverages the benefits of the individual operating systems, but this approach comes with a higher cost. Differing opinions abound, and your decision will depend on your situation. However, it’s a good idea to go native when you can.

5. Create a Roadmap

Now that you have decided how you will build your app, it’s time to map out your plan using project management. Determine how much time you expect the app development to take and set milestones to help keep you on track. Breaking your development into smaller work efforts allows you to monitor progress. 

Check out this post for more on how to successfully manage a development project

6. Build Your MVP

When you start building an app, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. You want to build out every cool feature you’ve thought of. But it’s important to stay focused on your minimum viable product (MVP) and the key set of features that offer the highest value to your customers. You’ll have time to enhance the app later, but you need to get something out to the market as quickly as possible to validate the market opportunity and gain user feedback. Your MVP is a tool that allows you to iterate, integrating your learnings into the app through multiple waves of development. 

7. Test

Don’t forget to include thorough testing in your plan. First, you’ll want to perform quality assurance to ensure all of the features work as expected. Then, you’ll want to test usability to make sure it offers a good user experience. You can do this with a beta trial, where you will select a small group of users to test and provide feedback before a wider release to the market. Their feedback is invaluable for improving the app before it goes to the market.

8. Pre-Launch Planning

As you’re building the app, you’ll want to do additional planning for pre-launch. You may have already considered things like your monetization strategy and the KPIs (key performance indicators) that you want to track, but now’s the time to start making it a reality. Create a landing page to begin sparking interest in the app before launch, and plan your social media strategy. You can plant the seeds of interest before your app is available, giving you a jump start. 

9. Launch

You have two options for a launch: a hard or soft launch. Your decision will depend on several factors, including the readiness of your app, your funding, and if you have an established market for your app. If you’re unsure, go with a soft launch to ensure continued forward momentum and less risk.

Check out this guide to learn how to decide whether to choose a hard launch or soft launch for your app.

10. Post-Launch

Your work is not done once you launch your app! Monitor your KPIs and start planning the next version of your app based on user feedback. Once your MVP has spent time in the market, you’ll be collecting a list of new features that will add value. It’s a continuing iterative process of development.

Build the Foundation Before You Build the App 

Laying the groundwork for your app is essential. Whether you’re building your app internally or working with a development company, you’ll want to have a roadmap. If you’re hiring help, be sure your development partner has experience with every step of the process and can help guide you. At Designli, we start every client off with our SolutionLab workshop to help you to determine your goals, identify your target audience, and determine the functionality your app needs for a successful MVP. We’re there with you every step of the way.


Learn how we help clients think through all aspects of building their app-focused startups through our SolutionLab workshops. Get in touch and we’ll schedule a call.

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