Opinion: Tricks for crafting killer apps for your clients

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/poba)

Creating an app for a client is a very different story from creating one for yourself. In order to have a quality end result, you need to be in tune with not only your clients’ needs, but also with the needs of your clients’ potential audiences — all while coordinating between client requests and your team’s own creativity and skill.

It can be a tricky balance to get right, but if you can pull it off, you may just come out with the perfect product. Here are four golden rules to both keeping your client happy and coming out with an app you can be proud of:

1. Dig deep.

When setting out to create a project for a client, designers need to have a deep understanding of what exactly the client is hoping to accomplish. Getting to know exactly what those needs are, however, can be difficult.

What your clients communicate to you may be different from what they actually need. Scaling back and focusing on the purpose of the project, rather than what it does, requires an understanding of how users interact with software. This is where you come in.

Remember, you’re the expert. The client has goals to accomplish, and he’s trusting in your team to help build the right software for accomplishing those goals. Talk with your client about what the app means for his company long-term outside of the specific features he may want to implement. This is the first step in creating an app that will actually satisfy his needs on a practical level.

2. Treat clients as collaborators.

There are two mistakes design firms often make when it comes to dealing with clients: They treat them as dictators, or they disregard their opinions as naive or ill-informed. In truth, the sweet spot for client communication lies between these two extremes.

Your client is your teammate; a powerful resource with the same desired end point in mind. Ideally, the client would sit in a room with you and go through specifics (like color scheme or structure) as you’re designing, but that’s obviously not always an option.

This is where the kickoff meeting becomes important. Take this time not to ask superficial questions like other type of apps they like, but to educate your client and even run some workshops. The best areas to focus on are structure and aesthetics. Teach a client how to look at an app through the eyes of a designer. Will users like the end product? Will it showcase the company in the right light?

If you can get a client on your same wavelength in the kickoff meeting, then further feedback from him should sound like it’s coming from someone on your team, not someone with completely different goals in mind.

3. Pinpoint who your audience needs to be.

It’s important to gain a deep understanding of the market and demographic your clients are tackling. Clients will usually give you a broad demographic to go after — your job is to narrow that demographic down. A product can’t be everything to everyone, so focusing the features and design efforts on a specific audience gives your clients a higher chance of success.

Seek out your clients’ competitors — look at how others are approaching the same goals and what solutions they come up with for various obstacles along the way. This way, you can see firsthand what works and what doesn’t, as well as get a better idea of what’s missing from the market.

If you can, directly survey customers. Your clients probably have plenty of information on their customer demographics, but when it comes to the customers’ design preferences, their smartphone usage, and app preferences, you may need to perform your own research. Your questions will be wildly different from your clients’ questions.

It’s possible that not every one of your clients’ customers will be interested in an app — narrow your focus down to those who would actually use it. Then you can begin to narrow the focus of the app itself.

4. Focus on your minimum viable product.

It can be easy to get sucked into the tantalizing idea that more features equal a better product. Trying to cram countless features into a first-generation product doesn’t just result in superfluous parts — it’s also an excellent way to create a buggy, sluggish app.

Research has shown that the vast majority of users will give up on an app very quickly if it fails to work the first time, and while it’s possible you may win some of those users back in version 2.0, many of them will be gone for good. Instead, focus on getting a minimum viable product to market as soon as possible.

To do this, you need to figure out the main problem that needs to be solved, and create an app that solves it — that’s all it takes. Simple apps are typically more intuitive, meaning users understand the intended purpose quickly. And once an app is available, users will let you know what they feel the app needs in order to grow.

This keeps the client’s ROI in focus. Less complicated apps require smaller investments, meaning that clients can start making their investments back sooner, giving them the chance to continue growing their products.

Your clients chose you for a reason — it’s your skill and creativity that will ultimately get the job done. As long as you can collaborate effectively with your clients and keep your target audience in mind, you can come out of the gate with a quality app that does everything it needs to do (and nothing that it doesn’t).

What are your best tricks when creating apps for clients? Share them in the comments.

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