Web and mobile applications are critical components of the 21st century business ecosystem. As more and more businesses get digitized, the necessity for developing web and mobile applications has increased in order for them to survive and stay in the game. However, as organizations and the way people do business evolve, web and mobile app development and strategies too should evolve in order to meet customer expectations.
The following is a step-by-step guide that will help you build web and mobile applications that are not only exceptional but also deliver value to your customers.
Key elements of a good web application strategy
The first and foremost step of developing a web or a mobile application is to have a strategy. A web application strategy is simply a plan of action that helps you achieve your aim and provides you a clear thought process for developing your application. It will help you understand what features users look for, the importance of each feature and the reasoning behind it. It also helps you analyze the thing as a whole and come up with the best solution using the best methods and resources.
The following are the key phases and elements of developing a good web application strategy.
Discovery phase: Developing a strategy for your web project starts with a comprehensive research so that you get a complete understanding of the industry and your business itself. An in-depth analysis of the competitive landscape is critical to the success of your project from a strategy as well as design perspective. It is important to have a mix of both quantitative and qualitative research throughout the entire strategy process. When it comes to qualitative research, discussing with your organization’s key stakeholders such as CEO, CMO or other key members about the web project will help clarify their role in the design and development process. Having the stakeholders of the business provide their opinions on the current website will provide valuable insight on areas that need improvement. It also allows you to assess any possible user experience problems they face when navigating the website. The research should uncover how the website can become a tool for users both in and outside the organization and help the specific needs of their job. On the other hand, a quantitative research helps you gather high-level findings that are backed by statistics. Most enterprises are interested in doing research related to their target audience. Hence, this kind of research should focus on gathering concrete data that provides insights on how to reach them effectively. This type of information helps you plan your website’s design elements, navigation, calls-to-action (CTAs) and other items that will increase the website’s user experience and conversions. Audit phase: The audit phase is when you take your insights such as existing site’s performance, bounce rate, ease of navigation and conversion rates from your research and use them to create an actionable plan for your website design and identify goals based on the analysis. You can also use these insights to generate more ideas on how to improve results and foster growth for your web project. Gaining important insights during your audit phase can help you spot potential areas for improvement. Moreover, in addition to comparing industry averages across various design elements and tactics, these insights can also help you discover significant trends that you can leverage. Strategy phase: This is the phase where you want to take your insights and turn them into various creative and web design elements. During this phase, you need to visualize a funnel that will reflect your buyer’s persona, their journey and how the customer may likely go through the decision-making process. You may have certain conversion points at the top, middle, and bottom of the conversion funnel, which need to placed in the correct places on your website for them to be effective. Customers need to be taken through the buying process in a systematic way in order to gain higher conversions. Hence, you need to identify how to guide them through the different stages of awareness, consideration, and then decision using your site’s elements. This phase also involves cross-departmental collaboration in your organization to enhance your site’s design and development. Experts from other teams may involve the IT architect, graphic designers and branding experts. From the visual standpoint, creating several mockups help in conveying your design idea. You should also determine the top themes that will identify your brand, and use the images and words that represent your brand.
A few other aspects you should keep in mind while creating a web application strategy involve:
Security is a critical aspect of any web application. Today, there are hundreds of ways even a teenage hacker can bring your website and business down. Hence, security must be one of the top priorities for a web development team. The team should look at adding features that do not hamper the user experience, but can clearly stop any kind of threats.
A web application should have a rich set of tools that allows developers to make alterations. It should also accommodate any kind of future modifications, big or small. This means that the web application platform should be agile to changes. Test-driven-development (TDD) should be an integral part of web development.
Another key feature that every web application is expected to have is responsiveness. Users expect a response that is quick and does not take long page reloads. Additionally, the web application should also be scalable and allow for future optimization for any data and load increase. This means that the design of the back-end infrastructure and storage is as important as that of the front-end user interface.
Considerations for designing a web application
Once you have laid out a detailed web application strategy, it is time to design your web application as this is an important exercise you should be doing before diving into developing the application itself. Here, we have listed some of the general design considerations and the specific considerations you should keep in mind while developing a web application.
The goal of web application design is to reduce the complexities of the application development process while designing a secure, high performance and user-friendly web application. Here are a few things you should consider to ensure that you meet these requirements.
Have a logical partition: The first thing to do while creating a design is to partition the application logically into presentation, business, and data access layers. This helps you in creating maintainable and manageable code, and allows you to monitor as well as optimize the performance of each layer separately. Layering also offers you more choices for scaling your application. Use abstraction: Implementation of loose coupling between the layers can be accomplished by defining interface components with inputs and outputs that translate requests into a format that can be understood by components within the layer. Additionally, you can also use abstract base classes or interface types to define a shared abstraction, which the interface components should implement. Understand how components will communicate: To understand how different components will communicate with each other, it requires an understanding of the different deployment scenarios your application must support. You must deduce if the communication across physical or process boundaries need to be supported, or if the components will run within the same process. Use caching techniques: When designing your web application, consider using caching and output buffering techniques in order to reduce round trips between the application browser, web server, and other downstream servers. This is one of the most important performance-related design considerations for your web application. Authenticate users: As mentioned earlier, application security should be an important consideration during the entire development cycle of a web application. For this, you should consider authenticating users whenever they cross a trust boundaries or layers. To protect data security, you should also encrypt sensitive data and use firewalls appropriately. User Interface: The user interface (UI), which is part of the presentation layer of your web application facilitates user interaction with the actual application. The design of this layer should consider using separate presentation logic components and UI components in complex interfaces, and base the UI components on standard web controls wherever possible. Testability considerations: As mentioned earlier, testability should be an important aspect of your web application design and development. Testability is the measure of how well your application or its components allow you to execute tests to determine if your test criteria are met. Testability makes it easier for you to diagnose problems in the early stages and reduces maintenance costs. Technology considerations: When it comes to designing web applications, there are different technologies that can be used depending on the purpose and intent of the web application. For example, if you are designing an application that will be accessed through a web browser, you can consider using progressive web apps. If the idea is to provide more interactivity and background processing, with limited page reloads, you should consider using AJAX. Alternatively, if your application has rich media content and interactivity, you could use Ruby on Rails. Deployment considerations: When you deploy your web application, you should consider how the layers and component location will impact its security, scalability and performance. You will also have to consider design tradeoffs for the application. Depending on your business requirement and IT constraints, you can take either a non-distributed or distributed approach to deploy your application. While non-distributed deployment generally maximizes your application’s performance, distributed deployment will allow you to achieve better scalability while allowing protection of each layer separately.
The Web Application Design Process
Once you have taken the different aspects of your web application into consideration, it is time to get down into actual designing of the application. The following are the essential steps of designing your web application.
Create a project roadmap: This is the first and an essential step of designing your web application. It involves establishing the goals and purposes of your web application. This step gives your project a proper direction and helps you keep your focus on the goal.
Define target audience and scope: This step involves researching and identifying your application’s audience and potential customers. It also involves preparing a report which includes the following assessments pertaining to your audience:
- Audience type: This contains statistics and percentage of user demographics such as audience age, gender or technological capabilities such as elementary, average and advanced users.
- Level of security: This involves creating risk statistics that help you define the type of security that should be integrated in your application based on your audience characteristics, security breaches, etc.
- Web access capabilities: This involves creating an access report and specifying the targeted audience’s access to the internet, intranet, and other application assets.
- Quantitative statistics: This involves creating a report of periodic time frames showing potential site visitors.
Create detailed functional specifications: This step involves creating a functional specifications document with the detailed list of technical specifications and functionalities the web application should accomplish. This is the most important document in an application development project and is created to eliminate any form of confusion in the future. However, if the project is large or complex, it can become difficult and overwhelming to detail each type of user behavior. If that is the case, then a feature summary document could be prepared instead of a detailed list. Identify third party vendors: Developing a web application often becomes faster and cost-effective if outsourced to a good third party vendor. This step involves identifying a third party vendor and includes identifying:
- A web developer or development company
- Providers of SSL certificate
- Managed service providers
- Providers of server, network, firewall, and load balancer equipment
- A merchant account and payment gateway
- Fulfillment centres
Select technology, identify web application structure and timelines: This stage involves identifying the technology and platform, development environment, and application development structure and framework. The stage also defines the timeframe within which the application’s modules and features should be completed. Design layout, visual guide and wireframing: This is another important stage in the web designing process. It involves creation of a visual guide of the user interface and the interactions of the application in the form of either wireframes or simple sketches. The visual guide or a wireframe is essentially the skeletal framework of your web application and provides an approximate view of how the user interface components will appear on your web page. Once the interaction and interface models are approved, the design can be implemented and a web application can be developed. Once the application is developed, it is necessary to test the application to ensure that it conforms to the goals and specifications of the project.
Best practices for developing a web application
Once your web application strategy and design are ready, it is time to get into the actual development and testing of your application. While developing the app, it is recommended to follow certain practices in order to optimize your web application.
Here are a few best practices you should follow while developing your web app.
Follow the development standards: The first thing to do while developing a web app is to follow the coding standards as it increases the efficiency of the application. Using standardized code also helps in augmenting the extensibility of the code, saving time while coding, improving the load times and accessibility of your web page, and even driving traffic. Focus on scalability, flexibility and performance: Smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices are becoming a common feature today. Moreover, the penetration of these devices in our societies are increasing every year. Hence, it becomes necessary to develop web apps that are cross-platform and responsive. You should also focus on responsiveness of the web application when it is opened across different platforms and devices. Irrespective of what programming language you use, it is wise to use either fully responsive or adaptive layouts to make your web app integrate with mobile and variable screen sizes. Developing the application that scales as per the changing scenario of the business and users such as changing loads, bandwidth and amount of data is another important factor you should keep in mind. Implement secure coding: As mentioned earlier, security breaches and threats have become common for websites and web applications. Conversely, the credibility of the application too becomes an important element to determine whether your audience will trust you with their secure information. Hence, you should keep security as one of the top priorities while developing the app. Implement MVC architecture: Most web applications are complex due to the complex architecture and multiple layers they involve. Hence, it is a recommended practice to deploy the efficient Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture. This architecture allows you to code your application in a modular fashion, making it more extensible and easier to handle changes. The Model portion is the central component where you develop the database hierarchies and design. The View portion is responsible for the front end design and complexities, while the Controller portion takes the input and converts it into commands for the other two components. This is where you implant the hard core logic. Using this architecture, you can extend the web application in any of these directions as per need. Adopt the right technology: Selecting the right technology that is suitable for your web application makes a huge difference to your application. For example, the technology required for an interactive web application with rich media is different than that which is required for more background processing. Technology considerations should take into account the programming language, database, framework and server.
Developing Mobility Strategy
Smartphones have increasingly become part of today’s society as more and more customers want solutions and services at their fingertips. Hence, it is not sufficient to develop only web applications to the customers, that are limited to desktops and laptops, but also mobile apps and web applications to cater to a larger audience.
However, in order create mobile applications that help you achieve your goals require a mobility strategy even before developing the application. While some of the considerations such as the target market, goals and KPIs, security, scalability and performance remain similar to that of developing web applications, other considerations are exclusive to the mobile environment. The following are a few essential elements of developing a good mobile application strategy.
Focus on user experience: When developing a mobile app or web application, user experience is a critical component. The goal here should be to create an interface that is not only eye-catching and pleasing, but also that is user-friendly. The question to ask yourself is how your customers will feel after using your app? Will they remember it for being easy to navigate or operate or for all the wrong reasons? Focus on the back-end: While the front-end is user-friendly, the back-end should be developer-friendly and should be a robust application programming interface, which means having all the functions and routines that allow you to interact with and access other software, operating system, data sources and third-party cloud services. Ty Amell, CEO of StackMob, takes this one step further and suggests having a backend for developers that is fully cloud functional. According to him, having a cloud-based backend can free up your development resources so that they can focus more on the front-end. Flexible, functional and scalable platforms: As already mentioned, similar to web applications, mobile web applications as well as native apps should be able to scale as per the business and user needs. The application platforms should also be designed to be flexible and work well across other platforms as well as with different front-end designs. Secure data: Smartphones and cloud technology have changed the way data is accessed. In the mobile world, the concept of securing data is almost non-existent. Most people use their smartphones and tablets for both personal and business purposes. This means that organization should be able to segregate and control sensitive business data across corporate-owned and personal devices. Similarly, customers’ sensitive data too should be secured alike. Create monetization mechanisms: A key consideration of the mobile app development strategy is to build monetization mechanisms, which encourage users to make purchase decisions, into it. While it is alright to allow users to initially download it for free, organizations should consider making money through it eventually. This is where the freemium concept can play an important role, where users pay nothing to download it and use basic functionalities but are willing to accept a price point to access advanced functionalities and options. A successful mobile app strategy understands the wheres and whens of pay thresholds. Focus on improvement and engagement: While focusing on maximizing app downloads is important, the app is not successful if it does not create sufficient user engagement. Before developing the app, the organization should have a strategy to actively engage its users. Building analytics into the application is an essential part of this strategy as it helps organizations understand the customer behaviour and their user experience. Based on the analysis, the app functionality and features can be improved as well as optimized to drive user engagement.
Tips to design phenomenal mobile applications
When designing and developing an application for mobile devices, which have shorter attention spans, your application must be such that it not only captures the attention of your users, but also encourage them to come back as well as help you drive user engagement. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when designing your mobile application.
Follow the rules of interaction design: When designing an app, you should remember to follow the rules of interaction design. There are five pillars or rules of a good interaction design - Goal-driven design, learnability, affordance and signifiers, usability, and feedback and response time. These five rules can be considered as the foundation of a good app design and should be followed for designing any form of interaction for a mobile device. Know your user: One of the first considerations while designing and developing a web application or mobile application is to identify who your customers would be. It is a good practice to create a user persona based on your ideal users’ demographics, habits, requirements, goals and challenges. Besides developing buyer personas, it is also a good practice to identify user scenarios and experience maps as they help you determine how your target customers may act and all possible conditions of interaction. All these will give you a direction and save you headaches during the development process. Map out content and build user work flows: Another important component of the app design is mapping the content and building the user work flow. In fact, an app design cannot be completed without developing the user workflow. A user workflow helps in understanding how users flow between content and actions. Developing a workflow can be done by starting to write with a simple pen and paper. The outlining exercise helps you develop an understanding of the various pages of your app and come up with ideas. Build mockups and wireframes: Wireframes and mockups are inseparable elements of an app design, be it on web or mobile. Wireframes are basically visual guides or diagrams that will represent how your app screen view will look like and how the elements will interact with each other. Mockups provide lifelike images based on these diagrams. Wireframes and mockups help in smoothing out the narrative of your app while helping you write your code. Remember accessibility: One important thing to remember while designing the app is to pay attention to finger-friendly designs. Fingers are thicker than the mouse keys and cursors on a mobile device. Hence, enough space should be given for users to click them using their fingertips. If the space between the keys or the keys themselves are too small, users won’t be able to tap them accurately, which leads to frustration, and eventually abandonment. Use familiar mobile patterns: A good mobile design has to do a lot with usability. Using the right mobile pattern helps you create UI that puts your users at comfort. You can start with studying common mobile patterns and popular mobile app interfaces. While you don’t need to simply copy these patterns for your app, you can use common UI as a baseline for the purpose of usability and then build upon it. This will make the design meet your expectations while not feeling boring. Two categories of interaction design patterns you may want to become good at are animations and gestures. Keep it clutter-free: When designing your app, ask yourself if you need all the screens and all the features or some can be done away with. Users should be able to perform their important tasks quickly and in as few steps as possible and your app should be designed to enable them to do exactly that. Your screens should support the person take an action of real value with a screen. If not, you may want to redesign your screens to retain only the necessary screens. You should also make sure that you remove unnecessary elements. Owing to the limited attention span of the users, they should be guided to the appropriate content quickly. The lesser number of screens your users have to navigate and the fewer unnecessary elements, the more successful your app will be. Make your app responsive: It is not a good practice to make users wait for the app’s content to appear. Developers should make sure that the app appears fast and responsive. Whatever actions the app needs to perform should be pushed to the background rather than the front-end, while only a fast response should be visible to the user. Use push notifications wisely: People already go through a number of notifications everyday which distract them from their day-to-day activities. They do not want one more notification to annoy them. According to a survey by Appiterate, the number one reason people uninstall an app is the annoying notifications they get. This means that you should avoid sending unnecessary notifications unless you feel that it is valuable to the user.
While these tips help you improve your mobile app’s user experience, most of them can also be used to improve the user experience
Tips to improve your application’s user experience
One of the pillars of a great web or mobile application is its user experience (UX). The experience that your users have while using the application decides whether it is a hit among your users or not. It will also decide whether you will have more conversions or more bounce and exit rates from your application. Consequently, creating an excellent user experience becomes one of the top priorities of the application development exercise. Here are a few tips on how you can improve the UX of your application.
Optimize for the device and OS: Smartphones today come in various sizes and with different operating systems. This means that your mobile application should be optimized for various devices and platforms if you want to have a larger number of target audience using your application. According to Mashable, the value proposition of the platform, the APIs required for the design and the device’s screen ratio play an important role in the final decision. Remember to test: It goes without saying that once you have designed and developed your app, it needs to be tested again and again to ensure that it meets the intended goals and specifications. The app needs to be tested at each stage as well as the final stage. The final product should especially be tested by not one but multiple users in order to identify different bugs and fix them. Add features: Besides improving your application by fixing bugs, you can update your application by adding new features that will help your customers as this can keep your users engaged and delighted. However, caution should be maintained to add only those features which people really use rather than giving them everything what they ask for. Otherwise, you will risk creating features that no one may use. Offer value before asking for signups: It is understandable that you may want your app users to sign up with you so that you can have more lead conversions. However, asking them to give up their information voluntarily the moment they start using the app, without giving them something of value is a lot to ask for. This is like asking for their credit card even before they enter the store. This will make your potential customers walk away and never come back. Include a Help section: While regular users of your application will know how to navigate through your application, first time users may get stuck and become directionless. In fact, even regular users may want to find help at some point of time. The Help and FAQ sections enable them to navigate through your application and get some common questions solved. You can also add a live chat window which enable your users to obtain immediate solutions for their queries. Offer loyalty incentives: It is not a bad idea to offer incentives such as loyalty points and rewards to your mobile app users. This is known to enhance stickiness, user engagement and possibly even revenues for your business. Include analytics: As mentioned earlier, including analytics in your application helps you understand user behavior. You will be able to learn what feature worked, what hasn’t and and what needs to be improved or optimized. It is also a good practice to include crash logs in your app, so that you know what went wrong in the app while being used in the real world. Obtain feedback: Besides having application analytics, you should also have a feedback mechanism where users can send you a feedback about your application and its features or report bugs and crashes. This will help you fix problems and improve your application thus improving customer satisfaction. You can use email, social media or other means for your users to provide you feedback.
Originally published , updated March 15 2018