So you’re building a mobile app? That’s awesome! Dreaming up a hot new app can be so much fun. There are a lot of steps to learn, like designing, programming, testing, and marketing. One of the most important, but sometimes less obvious, steps to creating a successful app is collecting and integrating feedback. Feedback helps us make apps that people actually use and love!
Imagine this, you spend three months building a tutoring app for your history class only to discover that everyone needs help with math instead – oops! If you had only talked to your classmates before you built the app you might have known. As product designers we want to build apps that people actually use and love! (Tip: If you start with an app you actually want yourself, there’s a good chance others will too!)
So, what’s the best way to start collecting feedback? The most important part is to start now! It’s never too early. You can get feedback on an idea, or with a simple drawing of what your app might look like. Ask your friends, classmates, parents, or whoever you are building the app for to tell you what they think. It is big mistake to wait until your app is designed and built before talking to your customers!
GET FEEDBACK AT EVERY STEP
Here are some examples of ways to collect feedback:
Interviews: Talk to people one-on-one right from the start while your app is still an idea. Ask them about their needs and issues. Ask them what they’re already using for this problem. But keep in mind that sometimes people don’t know exactly what they want or what they will use later on.
Prototype testing: As soon as you create the first elements of your app, get it in front of customers for testing. It doesn’t even have to be coded, you can just show people pictures and ask them to pretend that it’s an app. Ask them what they think the app is for. Ask them how they would use it. Try to not give them all the answers – just ask questions and watch what they do! Remember that no matter how clear and intuitive your app may seem to you, it might actually be confusing to other people, and feedback is how you find out.
Beta testing: Once you have a functional version of your app, get it to a few people for regular use and ongoing feedback—it’s ok if it has bugs because that’s the whole point! Your beta testers might be your team, your friends, your community, or all three. It’s hard to see all the bugs and kinks as clearly as someone with a fresh set of eyes can, so definitely get a second opinion (and third, and fourth…).
Usage data: Asking people what they think about your app is one thing, but actually finding out if they use it is another. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words! Customers might like the idea behind your app, and like how the app looks, but still not use it. As product designers, we need to know if, and how, people are using our apps so we can make them better. If you have access to analytics tools, make sure to use them. If not, you can ask your beta testers how often they log in and what features they use. At bare minimum think about how often you and your team actually use the app – if you don’t use it, why would anyone else?
Get multiple perspectives: Don’t just talk to one person—what is true for them may not be true for others! If you want to build a tutoring app, talk to students in more than one class. Ask teachers what they think is most needed. Talk to the tutoring center and see if they have advice. Check out other tutoring apps in the app store. You get the idea!
UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMER
Getting feedback also helps you identify more clearly who your customers are, so you can keep them in mind as you build your app. Ask yourself, “Who is this app for?” and “What problem does this app solve?” Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your app has to be everything to everyone! Start with one specific use for one specific group. Even if your big vision is to make an app as popular as Facebook, it’s best to start small and get that right before expanding to the whole world.
INTEGRATING FEEDBACK: FIRST THINGS FIRST
After collecting feedback and understanding your customers a little more, use that feedback to make your app better (otherwise, what’s the point?). Based on the kind of feedback you get, it might be really clear what to do next, but often we have a huge pile of feedback and need to figure out what to do with it.
So what should you do? Review the feedback with your team and figure out what is most important. Then make a prioritized list of the changes you want to make. In the beginning, big ideas can help you decide which direction to go with your app. Later down the line, more specific feedback can help you decide which bug fixes and feature requests to work on to take your app to the next level. In any case, focus on big wins and don’t get bogged down in the details. You will not be able to respond to all the feedback you collect—that’s just how it goes!
ITERATE AS YOU GO
This process of taking feedback and applying it to your app is called iteration—it’s like evolution for technology! The key to iteration is that it’s not just one step, it’s a continual process you use to improve your app again and again. So don’t just apply feedback once and then stop. Your work is not done! The best products continue to grow and change over time.
Here’s how iteration works:
1. Make something
2. Get feedback
3. Make it better
Yup, that’s it! So help your app evolve by continually improving it with all the wonderful feedback you collect and new information you gain as you build your product.
IF YOU LOVE IT, LET IT GROW
When we design and build an app we can become really attached to it. It’s natural to think of it as our baby! After all, it takes a lot of passion and dedication to get a new product off the ground. But we need to be careful not to hold onto our expectations too tightly. Try to stay open to new information—don’t let your perspective, or bias, stop you from taking in tips that would make your app better.
Imagine that as you are getting feedback about your tutoring app you find out that people are actually using it to ask questions about their personal relationships and career options more than for help with classes. If you step back you might see that what you actually have is an advice app instead. Ask your team if they are ok with that and consider loosening your grip a little and letting your app change direction from tutor to advisor! This process of changing direction is called pivoting, and it is very common.
TAKE IT WITH A GRAIN OF SALT
Keep in mind that your app may not click with everyone, so don’t get discouraged if a few people don’t like it or don’t understand it. Also, try not to take feedback personally. When people give critical feedback about our products and how to make them better, we can sometimes feel protective and defensive. Remember that it’s not about you—it’s about the app! Think of it as “feedback not failure” and take it with a grain of salt. Even the best products have bugs and unhappy users, so do the best you can, and don’t sweat the rest!
WRAP IT UP, SHIP IT OUT
I hope by now it is clear why collecting and incorporating user feedback is so important. You can’t wait to start talking to your customers, huh? I knew it!
Let’s end with lightening fast review so you can get on with making a rockin’ app!
Get feedback at every step and from multiple perspectives
Understand your customer—you can’t be everything to everyone
Prioritize your feedback—focus on big win
Iterate as you go—help your app evolve
If you love it, let it grow—let your app be its own person
Take it with a grain of salt—it’s feedback, not failure
Rose Broome combines her love of data with the power of technology to create health, happiness, and positive transformation in the world. Currently, she works as a data and research consultant for technology, health, and academic organizations including a collaboration between SuperBetter Labs and UPenn’s Positive Psychology Center. Rose likes to mix it up, and previously worked with Inigral Inc., Stanford University, and Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.