28 April 2023

Got 99 problems? Build apps that solve (some of) them

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Andrzej Schmidt

An effective app design framework for real problem solving

Apps have become an integral part of solving customer problems, from tracking the arrival of your taxi to managing your finances. The most successful apps solve problems, big and small, so when developing your app idea, it’s important to understand what real value the app will bring to your user. 

Below we explain how to get to the root of your user’s problem, design effectively around it and stay close to it throughout the end-to-end design process to ensure success.

How to identify a problem

Sometimes problems are staring you in the face but, often, they’re less clear-cut. If that’s the case, we need to gather as much information as possible before looking at solutions.

Start with your potential user base – which means extensive market research. The better you understand your potential audience and their struggles, the more targeted your solution will be. If you don’t already know them, identify their pain points and, even if you think you know, it’s always useful to confirm them – especially from a mobile app point of view.

Next, identify any app solutions that already exist and where they fall short. If there is one, what does it do well and not so well? What are users saying about it on the app store? This tells you the scale of the problem you’re trying to solve and who’s currently trying to solve it.

Lastly, look outside the mobile app industry entirely – maybe there are some real-world solutions that already do a pretty good job that can be adapted to a mobile app? Don’t underestimate straight-up inconvenience as part of the problem you’re solving.

A couple of apps, developed by GearedApp, that illustrate this process well are Amiqus and Good Food Talks. Amiqus uses near-field communication (NFC) to verify someone’s identity using a passport – so an app that builds on a real-world security solution but makes it more robust, cheaper and more convenient.

Good Food Talks is an app to help the visually impaired read restaurant menus. The problem we set out to solve was clear but all the partial solutions that existed, such as generic dictation apps or just asking others to read menus out loud, often struggled to navigate menus’ unique layouts or were downright inconvenient.

Good Food Talks filled this void and is now trusted in more than 5000 venues by some of the UK’s leading restaurant chains, including Nando’s, TGI Fridays and Wetherspoons pubs.

Design around the problem needs

When you better understand the problem, and what your app solution will do, it’s vital you keep this focus throughout the design and build stages.

This is especially important if you’re catering to a niche problem or filling a small gap in the market where the risk of overlapping other mobile apps is high. Exercise-focused social platform Strava is a great example – its developers knew social and messaging apps as well as workout apps already existed, but they were clunky in their methods of sharing and not quite fit for purpose.

Strava’s main aim was to allow users to post details of their workouts or exercise regimes with a smaller group of like-minded friends, rather than their entire social media circle, compete on leaderboards and allow them to receive external validation in the form of ‘Kudos’ to give them regular motivation. The result is a wildly successful model that’s used by 100 million athletes in 195 countries around the world.

So, what’s the best way to ensure you focus on solving your identified problem? The answer is User-Centred Design (UCD).

Harnessing the problem through UCD

User-Centred Design, or UCD, in its simplest form means keeping your users and their needs at the heart of your design process. It’s an intense, iterative process where you test at every stage and invite multiple layers of feedback that you can incorporate and gradually improve your offering.

It means your design will never deviate from the original purpose of solving a genuinely held problem.

The four stages of UCD

The UCD process is cyclical, which means once you reach stage four the whole process begins again. And again. And again. Of course, UCD can have logical points to pause but, in many ways, it is a never-ending method – meaning your app will always stay relevant and up to date.

Stage 1: Understanding

Conduct research into your users, their habits and their needs. The more you understand about the audience you’re catering for, and the more you do this continually, the more detailed an understanding you’ll have about them and what they want from your app.

Stage 2: Specification/confirmation

Using the results of your research, you can more specifically identify your product requirements and ensure your designs and iterations relate directly to your audience’s needs to make the app a success.

Stage 3: Development/creation

This is where you develop your prototypes and come up with ideas and solutions that cater for the issues you’ve identified.

Stage 4: Evaluation/testing

Lastly, you’ll need to test with your target audience to what degree your solutions are doing what they intended. This final stage leads back into helping you better understand your audience, creating additional needs you can factor in by beginning the four-step process again and refining your creation.

So, while Jay-Z may have described his 99 problems, in the world of apps rather than raps – that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Build your ‘tech for good’ with GearedApp

Our in-house team of curious self-developers work with organisations big and small to develop digital solutions that make a difference to our world. You’ll feel supported by our friendly team of GearedApp pros from our initial sit-down chat all the way to releasing your finished product.

Get in touch today to find out more about how we work and how we can help turn your awesome ideas into a digital reality.