Your App Idea Stinks! 3 Steps to Make it Better

You come up with a great idea for an app, and you’re sure it’s going to sell! You plan to have it built and in all of the app stores in a few months — soon after that, you’ll take a vacation or retire on your vast app income. The app, the idea, and the marketing plan will all just form as you go and everything will be perfect.

Wrong! Most of the time, the first idea is never the final idea. It takes work.

1. Store your Ideas

An important part of building a great app is keeping track of your ideas. Record every idea and all of the details for each idea. Later, you can go back and look at the ideas you’ve had, improving and refining them for building up better ideas. Everyone has their personal preferences on tools for idea collection. Here are a few that I use:


  • Notebook — Keeping a notebook in a pocket, purse, or bag will allow you to quickly jot ideas down anywhere. Collecting thoughts in a notebook allows you to use multiple colors, draw pictures, and earmark great ideas.
  • Smartphone — If you are like most, a smartphone is within reach at all times. There are plenty of apps you can use: OneNote, Google Docs, Evernote, and more! You can even get apps to draw or sketch and star/favorite your ideas. The important part is that you keep these notes synced to your computer or the web. But be aware, managing and creating digital notes can be more tedious than keeping a physical notebook.
  • (Web) Apps — Sitting at a computer, you have a ton of options to build and store your ideas, many of which can sync with your smartphone. Managing your ideas from a computer can leverage abilities to type faster, perform searches (for cross-reference), and add videos or images quickly.

2. Improve your Ideas

If you’re keeping track, you now have a hundred and three ideas. One of them has to be good!

Not yet — you still need to invest time to understand and improve the best idea. If the app you want to build is going to be used by anyone (yes, including yourself), you need to think about how, when, and where it will be used. Does your app fill a need while someone is in the car, at the store, or on the couch? Each setting has different constraints and distractions that your users will face.

Drawing out your ideas and creating mockups of your key interactions may shed some light on areas of improvement. If a critical part of your app becomes overly complicated, it may mean that there’s room for UI improvements or simplification of the interaction. Sketching your screens allows you to start visualizing what it might be like to work with your app.

Once you have a few sketches, make an app mockup using something like InVision or POP (Julia wrote about this) to make them interactive. Having a mockup of workflows and key screens will let you show off the app and get feedback, as well as improve, add, or even remove things. Show these mockups to target users to get the best feedback!

3. Validate your Idea

IMG_2226You have gone broad with your ideas, chosen one or two of them, and really dug into what your app could look like. The last big piece, before thinking about developing, is to validate the idea. You don’t have a working application, but if you have the sketches, interactive workflows, and a well-thought-out idea — that’s more than enough to start getting feedback. In this phase, you want to present and show off your idea, and even try to make a sale. If you can present your idea and convince people to give you money now for software later, then you might have a good app idea.

Work on a pitch and answer as many of these questions as you can:

  • Why is your app needed?
  • Who is it targeted to?
  • What problem is it trying to solve?
  • Is there another app that is similar, and if so, why is your app better?
  • What is the investment the user has to make (money, time, other)?

By answering these questions, you can begin thinking about your target market in finer detail.

Study your target market, and understand their wants and needs; this will help you tailor your final product for them. Make sure you get detailed feedback by pitching your idea to people you plan to sell the app to, especially if they say they say won’t purchase the final app (how can you make them want to buy?)! When you are getting feedback, make sure to ask if your potential users know of competitors or similar apps – you can learn from your competition.

Next Steps

Once you have validation and artifacts detailing your idea, you can finally begin work on making the app. If you made any mock prototypes and demos, those can be used to show potential developers what you need. In this phase, you should also consider funding. Think about pitching your ideas to investors to help fund development – the collection of artifacts from the previous stages will help. Atomic Object and various other software shops and vendors may be great options to consider helping you with your build.

The biggest thing to remember is to keep showing your prototypes and screenshots as the application is being built. Who knows who will help find or develop it!

  • Michael Harrington says:

    Did you notice that your three steps, followed by the “actual development” map directly to the four stages/roles of the creative process described in “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants”?

    An “Explorer” role, who is constantly on the lookout for the “raw materials” of an idea — blog posts, tweets, conversations, complaints of users, etc. — but who doesn’t necessarily know what that “idea” is yet.

    An “Artist” to combine the raw ideas in interesting ways to make something real and novel, without worrying if it’s any good or not. Maybe even develop a prototype to make the idea more tangible.

    And then a “Judge” to examine all of the available ideas and pick one (or a combination) to pursue.

    And finally a “Warrior” to fearlessly execute the chosen idea.

    I think a lot of times, the “I’ve got the next Angry Birds!” person gets one idea, goes straight to the “Judge” role, says “It’s the best idea so far!” (cuz it’s the only one), and greenlights their “Warrior” expecting unfettered success.

    I think a lot of creative projects could stand some restraint in pulling out the “Judge”. It sucks when you’re creating on a budget, because every minute you spend deciding “what to make” is a minute you can’t spend actually making it, so the temptation is to “just make it”. But what’s it worth if you make the wrong thing?

    • Jared Sartin Jared Sartin says:

      I didn’t notice that. Looks like a good read! The mapping seems rather uncanny, yet logical. I do agree that the “artist” role seems to be skipped, in favor of running with the first big idea. There are some benefits of it, for small things. Some would say that any progress is good progress, even if you fail. You learn 99 ways NOT to accomplish something, and in the end, you gain experience.

      Rushing into risky, under-budgeted, projects or ideas without stepping through each of the roles does have downsides. You can obviously get stranded on a bad idea that has no returns Alternatively, as you mentioned, every minute thinking and brainstorming is a minute less implementing – which could yield results good enough to expand budget and time (if proven more sound). The tricky part is finding the balance of skipping the artist phase, which comes with experience.

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