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We have been helping a client pitch new business to their client to build a mobile app. We broke our pitch into three sections:
- Why Work with Sawaya Consulting
- Why Build a Mobile App
- What Can Your Mobile App Do
The first and last sections were tailored to the client, but I want to take a minute to discuss the middle one—Why Build a Mobile App. We’ve been waxing philosophical on building applications (after finally admitting that yes, we’re in the app business for good) and have even been running a quick survey to see what our colleagues are up to. This article continues our philosophical discussion on this trend and we think that many organizations can benefit from this.
Our main points for building an app are:
- Capsule Experience
- Depth of Information
- Extended Capabilities
Apps are a great way to build a capsule experience—a completely controlled environment in which to deliver your information. We started discussing this idea after reading the article The Biggest Market You’ve Never Heard Of which we pulled the lines:
As richer, more dynamic, more interactive sites have hit the Web in force; the existing infrastructure has become alarmingly insufficient.
Content is so heavy, and networks so overburdened, that more efficient use of what we have is not only core competence, but critical behavior.
We took from those couple lines that information delivery is getting so massive and so confusing that it’s a good time to start creating Capsule Experiences.
As we look at the wealth and breadth of information out there, then pile on layers and layers of complexity, derivations, ads, additional content a quick link away and the further distractions of social media it’s no wonder that companies are looking for a way to silence the noise and deliver an experience that is as unique as the organization that created it.
An Added Bonus for Apps Created in Large Corporations
Not only is this micro-environment controlled for the end-user, but it’s controlled for the people publishing an app—which can allow for faster speed to market in large organizations with several departments and layers of red tape.
The Opposite of a Capsule Experience: The Point of Access
Before we get too far here I want to point out a different viewpoint that we also have on apps. It’s using your mobile or tablet device as a Point of Access. This strategy takes a much broader view of an application—putting the information and user interface in the center, then modifying that user interface per access device to keep interactions with your information as efficient as possible per device (computer vs mobile vs tablet). Some examples of this in the marketplace are Evernote, Reeder and Things (products we use and love). In this scenario, you wouldn’t necessarily refer to the “Evernote App” as “Evernote, which can also be accessed on an iPhone.”
Depth of Information
We covered the idea of depth of information a long time ago, but it’s worth taking another look at now. Depth of information is looking at your content as several layers. In a static document or book you basically have one plane (although you can reference other planes). In an app though you can step a user through understanding one piece at a time. I worked at a firm where we often said, “how do you eat an apple? one bite at a time”. Which means you can’t just swallow the whole thing, so you go a step at a time. It’s how we learn and digest information.
You start by presenting simple concepts to your users, occasionally allowing them to dip to another plane to clarify something (an acronym or a definition), then when they have the basic framework allow them to dive down a level then another, realizing that some users only need that tip of the iceberg, while others want to delve into mastery.
One of the biggest reasons to move to an app is extended capabilities, all the neat little widgets and gizmos that can be built into an app using native or custom code. It’s best to start with your concept then see what you can make that concept do in between what it is saying. These need to be customized per app, but here are a few suggestions:
- Navigation – the personal interaction with an app allows for different and interesting navigation schemes.
- Table of Contents – Simple navigation that people are used to.
- Topical – similar to website navigation, users choose which topic they want to visit.
- Use Case Based – we like to call this “choose your own adventure”, navigation that changes based on who you are or your role, where you are or other user-centered orders.
- By Task – Reading, task lists, goal lists, etc.
- Search – being able to find anything that’s available in the app.
- Glossary – don’t lose your audience over a single word, define those and present it inline with a tap.
- Forums – build a place inside the app where people can discuss what is going on.
- Task Lists – list of things to do can be customized by the user then checked off in the app or emailed for use externally.
- Quizzes – for both the user and creator, a good way to know if the information is being interpreted as intended.
- Bookmark – mark particular screens that are useful.
- Highlight – certain parts of text for your own reference or to share with someone else.
- Notes – leave notes in context with a way to search through those.
- Rich Media – display audio and visual in an app.
- User Created Media – pictures, audio and video that can be submitted back through the app.
- Advertisements – selling ad space to monetize an app.
- Internal Advertisements – setting up dedicated space (like for advertisements) but then pushing out internal content, like the launch of a new product, or a reminder to submit TPS reports that displays on the last 4 work days of a month.
- Internal Browser – for anything that needs to go online, keep people in the app.
- Updates – send out new content as it is finished, fix mistakes or refresh images (a corporate directory that refreshes when new photos are taken for example)
- Attribution – links to the author of particular content, complete with a page about them and a way to contact them from the app.
- A.S.L. – Alphabet Soup Lookup, ok we made that up, but have you ever read something with so many acronyms that it doesn’t even make sense anymore? You could put in an acronym look up, or better yet, link all the acronyms so once someone gets what it stands for they can click the word and the entire app updates to only show the acronym.
- Maps / Geo Location – Showing users where something is in relation to where they are. You could display all the information a sales person needs about a specific branch as they land in the city they are selling into.
Augmented Reality – this is an interesting new idea where people are overlaying data on the real world. It’s much bigger than can be discussed here, but start with Augmented Reality on Wikipedia if you want to know more.
- FAQs – Open and close information that people need to know or even allow users to submit questions in an app or tied to highlighted text.
- Translation / Localization – deliver your app in several languages, or go one step further and update language, currency, images, contact info, etc. Either let your users choose which language to view, or serve it to them based on geolocation.
- Cataloging / Reporting – allow users to report damages or catalog things they see that you want to know about.
- Toolsets for users – you could create very simple micro-apps in your app to extend the extended capabilities (see what we did there?). For copywriters you could include a dictionary, thesaurus, language manuals. Chefs could have measurement conversions, quick substitutions or guides to local fresh ingredients. Students on a college campus could have a campus map, course catalog and events list. The more niche the user base, the greater the depth of the toolset. As a designer I would love to have an app that included PMS colors, client contracts, view into our project management software—the things that I’d love to have at my fingertips in any new business meeting.
Why else build an app?
Apps are Cool
Let’s not discount too much that apps are cool right now. They are on the upward trend. No, this won’t continue forever and no we wouldn’t just build an app to build an app (ok, maybe we would, I’m looking at you, project codename SKS). Bow Ties are also cool.
Pushing Relevant Content
We were also looking at an article about how people are interacting with content differently—preferring and expecting relevant content to be pushed to them instead of the onus of retrieval on the end-user (Designing For The Future Web). At the time you design an app you can pre-program these content pushes. If you have an event on a certain date, have the app update the user.
Where are your Users?
We are also factoring in ideas like. “where do people read?” are they doing it at their desks where many other things (email, phone calls, other pressing work, social media, etc) are vying for attention, or are more and more people taking to the mobile platform to squeeze in reading time while they are traveling or waiting? While we were writing this post we came across this article: Why Go Mobile? in AdNews. The author posed the answer to his article title with another question, “when was the last time you saw a C-level executive, business manager, or someone in a market segment you are trying to reach without a mobile device”?
Keep Up to Date
We are planning to continue to expand on these ideas. If you want to be added to the list to be contacted specifically for Building a Mobile App (no other emails will be sent to you) then please enter your information here:
This work includes:
We were out today when someone asked us what we do. We told them we have an IT & design consulting firm. They pressed us again, yes, but what is it that we do? Well, we build things — sometimes websites, sometimes corporate tools, we build whatever is best for a company to communicate their information to their staff or customers. She thought for a moment and then launched into how bad their new system is and that no one can use it and that people were even quitting over it.
The thing that I find interesting about this is how rarely the depth of digital media is used. It’s not like a brochure that has to have a hierarchy and logical order and be read in entirety from left to right. You can present something very simple, in this example let’s say you have a form to fill out, and make it more complex as needed. You can then take whatever information you have gathered and change the output based on who will see it—like when you go to Starbucks and mutter that you want a mocha, to stay, skim milk in the middle size and the barista yells down the line “For Here, Grande, Non-Fat, Mocha” he or she changes the input of your information to better fit the recipients.
The depth of information is the information behind the simplicity, it’s there for people that need it and hidden for those that don’t. Take this diagram, the situation is a form that a patient needs to fill out to have a lab test run: