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App release planning: don’t build a wall, build a cottage

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I was reading a blog post last week, and came across some really bizarre advice. This random guy said something along the lines of, "Your first two app releases don't matter. They can be total garbage. Just worry about V3 and up."

Let's clear something up. That is absolutely TERRIBLE advice. Don't take it.

Why not? Because it doesn’t make any sense, and it will inhibit you from building an early brand fan base. Let's take a look at the planning that would go into this awful app release plan.

How to release an app the wrong way: the wall-box-house approach

  • Version 1: Release a disorganized pile of random features that hardly work. Make them up as you go without talking to anyone in your target audience.
  • Version 2: Add more features that are kind of terrible.
  • Amass a giant stack of 1 star feedback in the App Store and the Play Store that will stick with your app for the rest of eternity. As an added bonus, watch users blast negative feedback and press all over key social media channels.
  • Alienate users so much that they delete the app and never download it again.
  • Version 3: Release a less horrible app and start your marketing effort from scratch, fighting against all of the bad press you’ve already received.

See where I'm going here? It's not a great plan. In fact it's an absolutely terrible plan.

This approach may have been a legit possibility 5 years ago when people thought you were a magic wielding wizard if you had the skills to make a hideous app that sort of worked, but these days UX is the foundation of app success. People don't put up with barely usable junk, the industry has come too far for that. Users expect quality from the get go.

Now let's talk about an app release plan that actually works.

How to release an app the right way: the cottage-ranch-mansion approach

  • Pre Version 1: Conduct market and user research to make sure that your app is going to nail the problem you're trying to solve for your target audience. Also create a release plan. What are the key features that absolutely have to be included? What are the "nice to have" features? Run your release plan past some members of your target audience to make sure you're on track. This doesn’t mean that the initial plan you come up with has to be set in stone, but it's important to have some loose plans for the future before you release.
  • Version 1: Release a very small, beautifully executed app, with limited key features. Make it a functional, useful starting point.
  • Version 2: Iterate on the first release. Fix any usability issues, improve the UX, and integrate a few new features. If users voice the need for a really necessary feature that you hadn't thought of initially, include it. Don't get carried away and try to integrate every single feature request though, or you'll destroy your app. Run the set of features you decide on past some members of your target audience to make sure you're on track, then develop confidently away.
  • Version 3: Iterate on the second release, fix any usability issues, and improve your UX some more. Review your plan, evaluate the features you had slated, and run them past your target audience. If they are a good fit, integrate them in your V3 release.
  • Amass a giant pile of amazing feedback with enough stars to light up the sky.
  • Create loyal brand fans who will brag about how far your app has come, and about how you listen to your user base and integrate awesome new features on a regular basis. Word of mouth & unsolicited social media feedback are what make an app really take off.
  • Fill a swimming pool with all of the cash you make with your killer app.

I hear you thinking, "But conducting user research and usability testing is so time consuming and expensive! There is no way I can fit it into my release cycle and my budget."

That's actually a really common misconception. There are amazing tools available these days, like InVisionApp, that allow you to whip up insta-prototypes. You don't have to develop an app, test it, then fix the issues. Just put together a solid rapid prototype to conduct your research, run it past a handful of target audience members for feedback, and then start developing.

Conducting your research prior to developing will save you hours and hours of rework time, and mad cash in otherwise wasted dev hours.

Basically what I’m trying to say is this: Not only do your first app versions matter, they lay down the foundation for the future of your brand. If you plan to keep your app around for a long time, give the Cottage-Ranch-Mansion approach a whirl. Not only will it save you all kinds of money and time, it will give you a solid set of early adopting brand fans that will remain loyal for life.

Author

Jennifer Aldrich
UX and Content Strategist at InVision and UX Blogger at UserExperienceRocks.com. Fan of: my daughter, photography, writing, and beautiful usable things.

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