When I was about 11 years old, I came into London with a friend and my Dad to visit a ZX Microfair. On the tube, one of the other passengers sat opposite us opened his sports bag a little and said: “Do you mind if I ask you something? What do you think of these..?” He pulled out a pair of new trainers and explained that he was on his way to a meeting to pitch the design and he was interested in our feedback.
I can’t remember what we said: probably “cool” or something equally helpful. But it felt good to be consulted on something like that and to be involved in a design process that’s usually hidden from the public.
When you’re developing the app that will, at last, make you a millionaire, how do you sanity-check the ideas in it? The most common approach is probably to phone a friend: ask someone whose judgement you trust to see what they think. Of course, for this technique to work, you need to have absolute trust in that person.
If you’re going to ignore their feedback, you’re wasting their time and yours. Of course, everyone has a favourite colour, and you can’t accommodate them all. But if your friend suggests substantive changes, you need the strength of character to accept them, rather than just defending what you’ve already made.
The risk with this approach is that you end up just making apps for your friend, especially if they’re not very representative of your target audience. Any testing and input is better than none at all, but if you’re asking your friend to second-guess the user in the same way that you have to, then you’re still one step removed from the truth of what end users need.
The other approach is to ask the audience. Like the man on the tube, you can seek out potential customers and ask them for their views. You could conduct market research before you develop your app, run your early design sketches past people and run usability and playability tests at the end.
The nice thing about this is that you can build a framework for collecting and quantifying the research information you get back. You can compare the results from different people, track them over time, and more easily see what the consensus view is.
Programmes like this also tend to encourage potential customers to have affinity with the product. When they conducted open auditions for the Harry Potter movies and thousands of people queued around the block, they didn’t just recruit Daniel Radcliffe. They also created an army of ambassadors who felt involved in the film’s creation, and who were more likely to see it in future.
Research and development for apps that involves customers can help to generate sales too, both because it makes them aware of your product and also because they feel they have a stake in it from an early stage and it’s more likely to reflect their needs.
What’s interesting about the example of the shoe designer, though, is that he didn’t wrap too much formality around his approach. He almost certainly involved many other youngsters throughout the different stages of his design, but he didn’t restrict his consultation to the office.
He didn’t have to hide behind adverts promoting focus groups or lab sessions. He was prepared to go out on a limb and ask complete strangers what they thought.
The great thing about mobile apps is that you can take them anywhere. You can take them into pubs, libraries, trains, parks, shops, leisure centres, and universities.
Anywhere you can go, your work can go too. How many of the hundreds of people you pass in a day could contribute an idea or opinion that helps to shape your app? Ask them, and you might be surprised.
And on that note how do you fancy the idea of winning one of those new bright and shiny Ultrabooks by developing a Web app? If you transform your web code into apps, you can sell them through the Intel AppUp Center and then enter them into an Intel AppUp developer Challenge.
This blog post is written by Softtalkmobile, and is sponsored by the Intel AppUp developer program, a single channel for distributing apps to multiple devices, multiple operating systems, and multiple app stores.