The App Design Process: Bringing Your Ideas to Market
Design is more than pretty colors and flashy animation—it’s the how and why of the app development process, deeply ingrained throughout the entire project. UI/UX designers work to create both a well-designed user experience and a beautiful interface. UI/UX designers and software developers work together to deliver your concept into a full-fledged, go-to-market digital product so your app is ready for launch.
Developing code can seem like a concrete step, but how do you get your app’s design from concept to code? In this article, we’ll detail what you’ll need to do to transform ideas into user experiences, inject design theory and best practices, and deliver an app to market that delights the end user and meets your product goals.
Stages in the App Design Process
At its core, app design is about defining strategy, reviewing designs with increasing detail and interactivity, and working with experts who immerse themselves in your project—aligning your goals and the product’s user experience at every stage. Designers apply elements such as color, fonts, icons, illustration, animation, navigation, and brand design, through a proven process that makes it easy for you to achieve your goals:
- Strategy: Meeting Your App’s Business Objectives Through Design
- Wireframing: Illustrating How Your App Will Work
- High-Fidelity Designs: Previewing Your App
- Launch & Marketing: Bringing Your App to Users
Read on for more details on each stage and how app design brings your ideas to fruition.
1. Strategy: Meeting Your App’s Business Objectives Through Design
The strategy provides the plan to meet the business objectives of your app through design. Understanding your business, goals, and the desired end product is our very first objective and what guides our success, so our designers immerse ourselves in these areas. In discovery sessions, we work with you to identify your product vision and objectives. Through detailed research, discussion, and strategic analysis, we begin to define and visualize the end product.
Defining user experience requirements takes precedence from the very beginning of the app design process. To create the best design for your app, our designers work to fully understand what the end-to-end user experience should look like. To do this, we ask questions like these:
- What is the problem your app will solve?
- What functions will your app provide?
- Who are your app’s target users?
- What are users going to achieve through the app?
- What are their pain points?
- What motivates your users?
- What is important to them?
- How can we best serve users through design?
- Are there other products in this market space we should look at?
- Do you have brand or style guidelines already in place?
We also research the competitive landscape to unearth how your app is situated in the market during this stage. And, through audience analysis, we research the goals of potential users in that context.
Using information gathered from discovery sessions, competitor and audience analysis, and other relevant research, we are ready to start designing wireframes to validate the app’s information architecture and user flows, as discussed in the next stage.
2. Wireframing: Illustrating How Your App Will Work
The term “wireframe” has a long history, originating from design in car modeling, stop-motion animation, and sculpture to then being referenced in computer-aided design and CGI animation. Similarly, the wireframe serves as a visual guide to the user journey in app design, illustrating how your app will work.
Why is wireframing important? Think about it this way: If you were building a house, you wouldn’t want to invest time and money before understanding the blueprint. In the same way, a wireframe makes sense to design early in the process before investing time, money, and coding into the final product.
Fidelity is another essential aspect of the design process. Like the term “wireframe,” the term “fidelity” is drawn from other historical uses—in this case, the music scene, where it refers to audio quality. With wireframes in app design, fidelity represents the amount of detail shown. As we design your app, there is a spectrum of detail that begins to take more and more shape in terms of the level of clarity and interactivity.
We develop sketches and low-fidelity wireframes, which we will typically share with clients. These wireframes validate the app’s information architecture and user flows before getting into actual designs.
For example, here’s a low-fidelity wireframe of a music app we developed:
Clients review the low-fidelity wireframes, and we learn what high-level changes need to be made before moving to the next stage—high-fidelity wireframing. We then begin to consider UI elements—the color palette, visual hierarchy, and more that will start to come to life in your app design.
3. High-Fidelity Designs: Previewing Your App
High-fidelity designs are an effective preview of your app, rendering details in full color. At this stage, we take the wireframes and bring them to life with a fully branded design.
Using the same app as above as an illustration, you can see the difference as we’ve moved from low-fidelity to high-fidelity:
High-fidelity designs and, when needed, working prototypes, offer many advantages as the last step on the design detail spectrum. They provide an immersive experience that helps everyone truly grasp your app and provide a refined level of feedback to establish final agreement before coding begins. Seeing details in full color alongside architecture and flow, we can also improve the user experience.
Here’s a summary of the purpose these high-fidelity designs serve:
- Render details in full color and branding
- Enable clients and other stakeholders like investors to grasp your app’s true appeal
- Provide a vehicle for comprehensive and precise feedback
- Establish a final consensus on deliverables before coding begins
- Enable assessment and improvement of user experience
After a few rounds of revisions, we’ll create a digital style guide that we will hand off to developers who will build the app.
For example, here are some snapshots from the style guide for the music app:
4. Launch & Marketing: Bringing Your App to Users
To download or not to download—that is the question. And with so many choices, delivering code isn’t enough to make a digital product successful. You want your app to be seen, which makes the launch and marketing stage equally crucial to all the others from a designer’s point of view. You can go beyond making a great first impression by marketing your app to attract, engage, and exceed your users’ expectations.
While the strategies for marketing your app may vary, selling your app visually is a vital component of marketing it. App store landing pages feature your icon, screenshots, and video previews.
The landing pages for our music app, for example, appeal to potential users by providing an attractive and informative visual summary of the app’s design and key features:
Concluding Thoughts: Design to the Finish Line
Building a successful digital product requires more than development skills—design is a crucial consideration for any app project. At InspiringApps, our design skills elevate us from what other development agencies can provide.
Central to our promise is our finish line, every time guarantee. InspiringApps pours our expertise into your app design and development from start to launch. As evidenced by our award-winning apps and our design-centric team, our app design process is integral to bringing your app to market. We guarantee your project will reach the finish line.
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Boulder, CO—In the latest article from Built In Colorado, InspiringApps’ Director of Operations, Stacy Griffin, joins other leaders in sharing their career journeys, the lessons they’ve learned, and their advice for other women. Describe your career journey and current role. My career journey spans over 20 years in technology, project management, and people management. I started out as a developer at IBM and then moved into a developer lead role, which is when I began managing projects. From there, I pivoted to a formal project management role, which involved interacting with the business, gathering requirements, and managing technical project delivery. I eventually joined InspiringApps as a project manager, applying those same skills. Recently, I was promoted to director of operations, a new strategic role. I manage people and projects as a member of the leadership team. I’m also involved more on the sales side. My job requires managing a team of developers and overseeing client engagements and project lifecycle and delivery. It requires a lot of communication with clients and developers, both of whom have distinct working styles. To set expectations, I draw from years of experience in listening and applying empathy. I also have a master’s in computer science, which gives me aptitude and credibility with technical audiences. What advice do you have for other women who manage tech teams or aspire to? I have two pieces of advice for women who aspire to manage tech teams. First, find a role model. Look for mentors, ask questions and try to learn from the people around you. Secondly, avoid imposter syndrome. You should feel comfortable in your own skin. Remember that you’ve earned your seat at the table. What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a leader, and how has that made you a better manager? I’ve learned that there’s no single right way to manage people. Having the courage to manage in a way that’s comfortable and authentic to my personality allows me to lean into my strengths and improve in areas where I need to grow. It’s also important to know that treating people with autonomy and respect builds trust. People appreciate it when you’re honest and open. I’m not a micromanager, and I naturally take the role of supporting people. I’ve learned to combine open dialog with frequent check-ins. Bringing my authentic self to work makes me a better manager.
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Intentional company culture combines organizational values and mission with the rewards of employment that come in four main styles: Loyalty-based Performance-based Opportunity-based Lifestyle-based No style is better than the other; it’s dependent on the company and the employees hired. For instance, if your staff prefers lifestyle-based culture (flexible work or other perks) over performance-based culture (raises and promotions for a job well done), the employees may stay dissatisfied and leave to find a company culture that suits their preference. In InspiringApps’ infancy, the personalities of the relatively few people involved drove our culture. But as the company grew, we were careful to emphasize the characteristics that fostered a positive work environment and eliminated any contrary to what we’ve come to value—empathy, inclusion, and personal growth for our employees. Why do your employees need an intentional company culture? A recent survey found that 79% of employees who left their jobs did so because of a lack of appreciation, and 50% said they were more motivated by appreciation than money. This sounds like a job for company culture! In an ideal world, company culture and performance should work in tandem. Employees who are happy with their jobs have higher satisfaction rates. However, lousy work culture can hurt employees, bringing high turnover rates, burnout, and subpar work. Creating an intentional company culture requires consistency and time. There is no shortcut. Intentional company culture benefits from open minds. Influential leaders seek to: Understand what employees appreciate and what causes them pain. Hear employees’ suggestions for improvement. Follow through with promised changes. Repeat the above frequently. Intentional company culture requires commitment from everyone—especially the leadership team. InspiringApps understands this fundamental truth. An InspiringApps employee explains it best: How To Develop & Maintain a Great Company Culture Engaged employees are critical for business success. Experience is the best teacher, and we’ve learned plenty of lessons regarding things that keep our employees a happy part of the team. We built our culture slowly and methodically, and we’re proud to celebrate strong retention, with over 40% of our staff staying with us for more than five years. Among all the lessons we’ve learned, the following best practices stand apart from the rest: Promote from within. Offer excellent benefits. Be inclusive. Communicate consistently. In the following sections, we discuss each best practice in detail and share our experiences to help every company develop and maintain a great culture. Promote From Within Today’s employees are looking for a company with opportunities for career advancement and appreciate roles with a clear path to growth and promotions, as they give them personal goals to work towards. Along the employee journey, InspiringApps offers professional development opportunities that help our team members stay on top of their skills, expand their capabilities, and incorporate new and developing interests. By doing so, our employees can have long tenures at InspiringApps, while remaining competitive. At the same time, we can hire the best candidates for our growing positions right from our own team. As the InspiringApps client roster scaled, so did our team. We promoted long-time employees into our development team lead roles, recognizing their wisdom and honoring their commitment to our team through their tenure. Offer Excellent Benefits Many startups, including InspiringApps, may be resource-constrained in the early days. Health and retirement benefits are expensive, so we focused first on benefits that didn’t require a direct cash outlay. Establishing a two-day-per-week remote work policy over a decade ago, accommodating part-time employees, and offering flexible work hours were all low-cost ways to treat our team with respect. As InspiringApps matured, we also added more traditional benefits. In addition to a 401(k) plan with match, profit sharing, and a generous and flexible PTO policy, we recently increased the company’s health premium contribution from 50% to 100% and added company-paid vision, dental, disability, and employee assistance (EAP). Be Inclusive Inclusivity is a mandate kept top-of-mind in the projects and clients we take on and the staff we hire and promote. In a historically homogenous industry like tech, inclusivity can be a challenge. Through intentional recruiting and a focus on providing opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups to join the field, InspiringApps is working to build a more diverse team that better reflects the communities we serve. 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Our commitment to culture is exemplified by an official Great Places to Work ® Certification™. But that recognition is only a small window into the little things that our team is doing every day to reinforce the culture we’ve been nurturing for years. Our culture is one of our most valuable assets. It defines our expectations for the way we treat one another. Beyond making InspiringApps a pleasant place to work, our culture is evident in our client relationships and in the apps we create. Building award-winning apps starts with a language that’s foreign to many of us: code. For more than 15 years, our app development team has built easy-to-use iOS, Android, and web applications serving over 100 companies in a dozen industries. See our work.
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