The 10 lessons I learnt from building a terrible app

By Michael Halligan

I’ve made a lot of mistakes over my two-year journey creating BodyWise. A week or so ago, we released our third version and the first that I’d call a product I’m genuinely proud of.

Three major designs and 24 months of speaking to customers and analysing data can teach you a few lessons about making apps.

BodyWise version three is by no means perfect and this list will continue to evolve as I learn more about making killer apps, but here are some of the lessons I learnt going from the MVP, to an exhaustive hit-and-miss version two and finally a polished, high-quality version three.

1. Do half of what you want to do in the beginning

You’ll probably be disciplined when putting out the first brief to your developer. As it starts getting built or designed, you’re going to realise all the things it could be. You’ll have many conversations with your developer that start with “can we just add this”. They’ll add up quickly. Your developer might stretch to do all of them and as a result, none of them will be done at an exceptional level. Move fast, but don’t try to do it all at once.

2. Choose a strong analytics package and make sure you’re getting what you need

We chose Localytics from the beginning, but with a bare-bones integration. I knew who was using the app and general usage statistics, but I couldn’t see what screens where being accessed, at what stage of on-boarding users would abandon, or uncover in what areas the product was missing.

If you can see that your product is failing, but can’t see why then your analytics package is of no use.

3. Put yourself in a situation where you can move fast

You’ll learn things scarily fast. Users will tell you what annoys them or what you could do better. If it takes you months to make the improvements, you will have already lost them and have to turn your attention to completely new users.

Make sure you can make improvements quickly.

4. Speak to your users. Know them back to front

I have really sucked at this over the journey. I hid behind trusting my gut and not wanting to annoy users by reaching out to learn everything I could.

Make it easy for users to give feedback. Treasure it. Do anything you can to get it.

5. Don’t buy into your own hype. Your product isn’t as good as you think it is

I’ve had moments where I felt as though we couldn’t fail. The problem seemed so obvious and our solution so perfect. Making a good app is really, really hard and it’s not until users have it that you truly grasp that.

You see the potential more than others. They’re just judging you on the now. Your app might be good, but it’s not as good as you think, yet.

6. Minimize steps to use

Long forms, multi-stage signup and things you might do on the web don’t work on mobile. You’ll lose a huge chunk of the people that you’d worked so hard to have download your app in the first place.

Cut down the steps required to experience your product, then cut it some more. By all means require users to sign up, but ensure they understand the value proposition early.

7. Identify what success looks like for your users and focus on maximising this experience

What do the people that truly love your product have in common? What makes them love it? What part of the app are they using that others aren’t?

Once you realise what a successful user looks like, work backwards to funnel others into that experience.

8. Get amazing people around you — professional or otherwise

Good co-founders, supportive friends and family. They’re the most important thing in this whole process.

It’s going to be hard. You’re going to want to give up at least a few times. Make sure you have amazing people around you to support you and keep life fun outside of building your product.

9. Keep your UX dead simple. Don’t make me think

Guilty as charged. People have ingrained habits that they’ve learnt from the Instagrams, Angry Birds and Facebooks. Don’t try to redesign how someone should use your app.

Good app design is natural and so much more than the pixels you see on the display.

10. Focus on the ‘wow’ moments. Do you have any?

“Oh shit, that’s awesome”. That’s what you want users to think. A moment of realisation of a problem solved or something that they can achieve that they didn’t think was possible.

Build wow moments into the early experience of using your app.

What are some lessons that you’ve learnt from making apps?

Michael Halligan is co-founder of BodyWise. This article originally appeared on Medium.

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