Eleven mistakes you can avoid when making an app

You’ve heard it over and over again: app stores are exploding with content these days, and the number of new apps being launched each day shows no sign of slowing. Instead of seeing this as a deterrent, though, you can take the “glass half full” approach and see it as a ton of case studies to learn from.

So, if you’re serious about turning your app idea into something that gets used, and loved, by others, then it’s worth thinking about some of the things that can go wrong. Hopefully you can then avoid them yourself!

This is a guest blog post from Steve Lamattina, Chief Editor at ToolTester Network/AppToolTester.

Branding mistakes

1. Complicated name

The name of your app, while not the first thing you need to figure out, is definitely an important issue. One of the problems that people make is creating a complicated name. Perhaps it has too many syllables, is difficult to pronounce, or simply doesn’t make sense.

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Sorry, unfortunately, this name has already been taken.

2. Trademarked name (a.k.a. stolen identity)

You’ve just come up with an awesome name, published your app…and then suddenly you get sued! Now all that branding and PR have gone to waste because you’re going to have to change the name. Not good.

How to fix these:

To help think of a catchy name that might also be descriptive or functional, you can experiment with joining words or “WordSmashing.” A lot of the biggest apps out there do this to great effect: Facebook, Instagram, QuickPic, Citymapper, and many others. With the last two, at least, you can take a guess at what kind of apps these might be just from the two words they’ve stuck together. If this approach fails you, then just think of something short and snappy that hasn’t already been taken!

This brings us to the second point, please use the Trademark Electronic Search System (or TMView for the EU) when coming up with your name. Even though this is not considered the only place you need to look, you should start here for a quick reference.

Content mistakes

3. Too many features

Bigger is better right? Well, not always and, in the world of apps, it’s more useful to think along the lines of “less is more.” One mistake that app creators make is chucking in every type of feature just because it exists. Perhaps it’s due to the misguided idea that your app will then appeal to the widest audience. Bloated apps aren’t good for anyone, though.

4. Unnecessary content

Along the same lines as above, filling up your app with content just because you have it should not be one of your goals. If there’s too much “stuff” to navigate through, this makes it more of a chore than a pleasure for your users.

How to fix these:

First, you need to make sure you do the research and know your market. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a better grasp of what niche your app is trying to fill.

It’s worth keeping that word in mind: niche.

This word should conjure up images that oppose the idea of “Bigger is Better.” It’s worth focusing on a small subset of people and giving them exactly what they want without the filler.

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Shazam is a great example of an initially simple app with one focus (identifying a song) which now, after many years, has slowly added functions such as the above.

 

Another thing you could do is release a pared-down version of your app to begin with, just keeping the primary functions and content. This has three benefits: first, you are forced to think about what elements of your app are essential; second, you’re then able to give your full attention to developing these sections well; finally, you can get real feedback as to what extra elements people are looking for via comments. This doesn’t mean that you have to implement every user-suggested function, but you might see trends in what people are asking for.

Design mistakes

5. Not focusing on UX

This is a common problem with new app creators, often simply due to their lack of experience. UX (user experience) encompasses many areas, but it’s basically about creating an app that users can pick up and use intuitively, that is, without too much explanation. A good test: if it takes more than three swipes, or taps, for someone to get to what they’re looking for, then that’s an example of a bad UX.

One thing to note when discussing app makers in particular is that you’re designing for both iOS and Android systems concurrently. This can be tricky to get right. So it’s worth a bit of investigation into how each system works, particularly with the placement of the menus and use of the “backwards” buttons (which iOS doesn’t have). Keep the placement neutral but also intuitive.

6. Inconsistent design

It’s easy to get lost when designing the separate features within your app. Most app makers have an “overall” design section that helps keep things mostly consistent in terms of color palette, but it’s worth keeping this palette in mind when deciding on new buttons, menu items, or call-to-actions within the app.

This also feeds into UX, as the flow from section to section should also remain consistent to help people get the hang of your app quickly.

7. Bad logo/icon design

This one’s pretty inexcusable these days, yet it still happens way too often. Logos and icons are often the first things that potential users see, and if they are unclear or unattractive, then people will simply keep scrolling. Also, having bad icons is one of the top three reasons that Apple rejects apps from its store. Using words, pixelated images, or clashing colors are all no-no’s for your icon. Words are kept for the logo itself, as it usually consists of your app name and some connection to your icon imagery. See below for examples.

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‘Vine’ icon & logo versus ‘Poker Stars’. Which would you choose?

How to fix these:

As with content, the best advice is to keep things simple and clean. Material design is popular at the moment, and it might be worth using these guidelines when designing your app. Also, Apple’s guidelines are very handy too, and a handy summary can be found here. In effect, a kid should be able to pick up your app and use it without issues.

Creating flow diagrams, even if just sketched, is a great way to visualize user flow and experience with your app before you start. It’s also good to have these to refer back to throughout development.

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Basic user flowchart for iOS application (source: Paul Moore)

 

To help keep a consistent and complementary color palette, it might be helpful to use one of the free tools online. Coolers is a nice option. It allows you to generate random palettes or input a color and generate palettes based off that.

If you have little or no design experience, you can learn the basics for free just using YouTube. Simply search for PhotoShop or Illustrator tutorials. If you have a little spare cash, then it may be worth investing in a paid course from somewhere like Lynda. If you have more spare cash, then it might even be worth investing in a UX professional from a site such as Upwork. And I think it’s always worth the investment to get a well-designed logo. You can use 99designs to do this on the cheap.

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Soundcloud apps have both good UX and consistent design.

 

And finally test, test, test! Ask friends, family, workmates, and anyone else you can to try out your app in its various stages. You can also use programs such as TestFlight for iOS beta testing to help get your app out there while it’s still in its preliminary stages.

We also have a lot more info on designing your app here.

Marketing mistakes

8. Last-minute marketing

It’s easy to forget about marketing when developing your app. You have so many other factors you’re constantly considering. But planning your marketing right from the get-go is very important. Making sure that the right media sources are aware of your app and launch dates can really help get the word out and boost launch figures.

9. Not considering ASO

A lot of people simply ignore this acronym…don’t be one of those people. ASO, or app store optimization, is all about optimizing different factors, such as your app title and description, to help increase your organic search volume. This basically means making your app easier to find among the millions of other apps out there, so it’s something you’re going to want to do, right? Once again, this is something you need to be thinking about right from the beginning, as it will affect all aspects of your app, such as what you decide to name it, how to market it, and even what it will look like.

10. Not understanding your audience/niche

There it is, that word again: niche. You can’t escape it. This goes hand in hand with basically all of the above because everything about your app needs to be informed by who your app is being made for. Apps will always fail if you don’t have a particular group in mind when creating your app, whether it be gender-based, age-group based, location-based, or interest-based.

11. Not responding to your audience

This comes post-launch and, perhaps you think we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but mistakes are not only made before you publish your app. A lot of app makers simply forget about the customer once they’ve launched or they ignore negative comments. You really need to make sure that if someone comments, particularly if they have an issue, you get back to them offering support. When people see responses to comments, it shows your users that you care about them and your app.

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Probably time to rethink your sync?

How to fix these:

As mentioned above, create a marketing plan as soon as you start planning your app. You can find simple outlines with an online search if you need ideas. But basically you want to include things such as important dates, marketing channels, advertising opportunities, and key contacts. It might not hurt to include a breakdown of your marketing budget, too, if you have one!

With every marketing plan, you also need to make sure you do some market research. Simple things, like having a particular person in mind, really will help with this step. You can then gather statistics and information regarding which social media channels are frequented most often by your target group, what color palettes are the most popular, and the best forms of advertising.

As for ASO, it’s really worth understanding the basics of how you can optimize your app. There are several simple things you can do, such as optimizing your name and description, but you can find more detailed information in our ASO beginners guide.

Preparation is the key

As with most things in life, preparation is key. This is also true when creating your app. After reading this article, you’re already on your way! Just being aware of mistakes that people often make will help you plan ahead and hopefully avoid them yourself.

I hope this article has given you some food for thought. It’s difficult to cover everything in one article (and you probably would have dozed off halfway through if I tried to), but you can easily find more in-depth information on each area…especially now that you know what you’re looking for.

There are a lot of apps out there, and the frustrating reality is that majority of them are terrible. I hope this piece encourages you to contribute something to the “user-friendly” end of the spectrum!