I didn't ask for a one star app

By Peter Ballard @Ballyfool

It would seem that every marketing or e-commerce team in the country is being challenged by the board (or senior executives) to “get them an iPhone app”.

More worrying is that “Just get me one” seems to be the most common reason for having an app right now. In a panic not to get left behind, the normal rules are being bent, and everything we have learned about sensible, evidence based web development has been thrown out of the window.

When it comes to mobile, it’s like we’re back in the dark days of 1999, when a similar cry from the board was “bring me a website”.

However, the mobile app environment is a very different world to that of the early web, and the need for a good customer experience is hard-wired into the browsing.

The vast majority of mobile apps are iPhone apps, which are distributed by iTunes. This environment places customer ratings and reviews at the heart of the store. The best rated apps get promoted. The lowest rated apps quickly disappear from view, along with any brand or revenue aspirations.

And customers know their stuff. It doesn’t matter if it’s free or paid for; the public is quick to voice criticism and vote with their feet. Yes, this acts as good feedback, and fuels enhancements for the next release, but can your brand really afford to do all that learning in public?

So many of today’s apps could have been improved, or delivered ‘right-first-time’, if the basic principles of user-centred design had been applied, and the main interactions tested with real users prior to rushing it out on iTunes. The principles are the same as designing a new website:

  • Does this meet a genuine customer need?
  • Do we understand the context in which this app will be used?
  • Is the interface simple and easy to use?

Testing this stuff is easy, and there’s specialist kit to make this easier still. Ensuring that your mobile site and app development embraces a few simple principles of validating with customers will go a long way to avoiding an awkward conversation with the board, because although they may have said “Get me an App”, you can be pretty sure they didn’t say “Get me a one star app”.

Peter Ballard

I co-founded Foolproof with Tom Wood back in 2002. Today I work across a range of clients, particularly in the roles of Experience Planner and Client Partner. In my role as Experience Planner, I ensure that our design teams have access to the right insight to respond appropriately to the business and creative challenges faced by our clients.

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