January 10, 2011

The Vague Notion Predicament

Five years ago, if a friend had said “I’ve got an app for that,” I’d have thought he’d stuttered mid-sentence. Today, you’d have to be from another planet to have not heard of apps. And while the most popular apps are not necessarily the most useful — I mean, really, “Angry Birds”? — apps are definitely here to stay.

New app ideas are a dime a dozen. Most don’t even pass the first hurdle: is this idea viable? So before you start broadcasting your brainstorm, let me show you what experienced app developers consider the best practice or most important task (MIT) at the initial stage: get up close and personal with the problem you are trying to solve. Put aside all temptation to consider the market opportunity, technological capabilities, etc, etc. Those considerations are best taken up farther down the road. IMO, the single biggest mistake people make at in the early stage of app design is what I call the vague notion predicament. See, anybody can have a light bulb go on over his or her head — bing! “I just thought of a great new app!” Not everybody and, in fact, only those destined to be successful will take that vague, brilliant notion and see it through. And when it comes to developing an app, “see it through” breaks down like this: see it, grasp it, picture it, and then draw the darn thing the way you’d like to see it on the screen!

The best way to accomplish that is by collecting not just one but a series of user stories. In other words, you have to walk a mile — or, better yet, walk through several smart phone screens — in your user’s shoes. So sit down and write out as many scenarios as you can think up. Consider exactly what problem or dilemma shows up for your user just before he grabs his phone to open your app. Think about what that individual is trying to accomplish. What is the problem the user is trying to solve? Map it out visually if you can. List as many scenarios as you can imagine. Then give yourself a week or two to collect some more. You’ll be surprised at how your mind sifts through your day-to-day experience to put some meat on the bones of your idea.