The excitement of having a promising app idea is something we always love to see in the founders who reach out to us. But it’s also true that many of you come from non-technical backgrounds – which can make it hard to translate an app idea into an actual, functional, prototype.
When you start looking for competitors or similar apps, you have the set purpose of familiarising yourself with the tech field and how apps work in different contexts and for different purposes. But when you throw yourself into an unfamiliar industry, it’s hard to tell which apps are well built, and which aren’t.
The fact of the matter is it’s easier to identify apps that are well built when you know what you’re supposed to look at. You can tell a good app by looking at its parts, just like you can recognise a good meal by looking at what ingredients are in it and how they’ve been prepared together. Like bad dishes, we know apps become annoying when everything clashes with everything else. But to know a well-built app, all you have to do is see if you can answer ‘yes’ to the following questions.
1) Does it deliver the value it promised?
Let’s start with the easy part. When you first try out an app, it’s good to listen to your gut feeling. We all try out apps because we’re looking for a solution to a problem or for some type of entertainment. Did it promise you a repairman at your door that’s just not turning up? Did it promise daily funny stories and it flopped?
If the app in front of you fails to align its promised value with what it can actually do, alarm bells should be ringing in your head. It’s started the relationship with you – the user – wrong-footed, from the very first meeting. Just as when you just turn around and walk out of the bar when your Tinder date turns out to be the complete opposite of their profile picture, so a misrepresented app becomes a ’no, thank you’ for every new user it comes across.
2) Can you easily navigate it?
This one is pretty self-explanatory. It comes down to knowing what your options are for your next actions (hint: having one main task per screen is a big ‘well done!’), being able to backtrack to edit provided information and knowing when you’ve finished your task. An app that doesn’t leave you wondering what to do next or how to get back to a previous action is an app well-built.
3) Are the elements clear?
App screens are made up of elements that work together to inform you, interact with you or just let you do your thing. Well-built apps have a good combination of visual elements and copy that make it clear what role each plays.
When app elements are clear, you can easily tell which elements are interactive and what will happen next if you interact with them. You understand what information you need to input and why it is needed. Simply put, you can clearly understand why an element was included in the app.
4) Does every action create a reaction?
People like getting confirmation for what they’re doing. Just like when you’re throwing a ball, you want to see it bounce back, when you interact with an app, you want the confirmation that what you are doing has been received. Whether it’s a simple colour change when you tap a button, a confirmation message when you submit some information, or a small callout box confirming that a function has been completed (haven’t we all freaked out at least once that our info wasn’t saved?), reactions validate your interaction with the app.
5) Is the app adapted to the context in which it’s going to be used?
An app that delivers its value proposition, is clear both in its elements and navigation and is reactive to the user’s actions is promising. But when you start looking for apps and evaluating them, you have to remember that apps don’t exist in a bubble.
A well-built app is also aware of the context in which it is used. It provides short input forms when the user is likely to be in a hurry. It lets you browse and explore seamlessly, when you’re not sure what you’re looking for. While it’s true that the first versions of an app might not cater to all contexts, they should recognise the main context in which it will be used and built according to that.
6) Can you communicate with the app in the ways you need to?
The last question on our list has less to do with how the app works, but more to do with the way it reminds you that it exists, and that there are people behind it that make it work.
A well-built app gives you notifications when you need them, lets you submit feedback, and keeps you up to date with any new features that the team behind it are working on. Open lines of communication assure the user that there is somebody behind the app that you are using. And more than allowing the user to build a rapport with the app, it assures the user that despite technological and software changes, the app will keep up with all that and remain available to the user.
When you set out to build an app, you want to build something useful and fun for the user to experience. You’re building a business dressed in app clothes, so you want to instil trust, provide value and, at the end of the day, draw the bottom line and see your business grow.
Knowing which way to turn an app and how to look at it to see its value is an important skill for any aspiring entrepreneur. Not only because it gives you an extra edge when you check out your competition. When your idea turns into a prototype, and then is built into an app, the same critical thinking will help you build the best version of your app.