How to Plan a New Web Application

Oct 8, 2013

So, you’ve come up with an idea for the next web application that is going to take the world by storm, but there’s only one problem: you’ve never built a web app before. Where do you start? You know you’re going to need a plan, but just how exactly does one go about planning a new web app? Drawing up a plan for a new web application is a lot like creating a plan for a new business. If you’ve come with a plan for a business before, then a lot of this will probably look familiar to you.

1. What Problem(s) Does Your Web Application Solve?

First things first, people are going to need a reason to use your app. There’s simply too many apps already out there to just recreate something that’s already been done, or make a superfluous that doesn’t fill any voids or provide any useful function(s). I started this article by making the assumption you already have an idea for an app, but this would be a good time to review and really take stock of your idea. If your idea doesn’t involve some kind of solution for consumers, the odds of it taking off just aren’t there.

That being said, do not try to be everything to everyone. A couple weeks ago I had the good fortune to witness someone unveil their new app at a conference, and when it came time for the Q&A portion of the presentation, I only had one question: Why should I, or anyone, use this? I won’t get into the specifics, but it appears what happened is that by trying to be everything to everyone, the final app was nothing more than a generic aggregate that didn’t offer any incentive to its users, begging one to ask why then anyone would use the app rather than going straight to the source. Moral of the story: focus on one small and simple thing, stick with it, do it right, and see it through.

2. How Does it Solve Said Problem(s)?

Now that you know what solution(s) your web application is going to offer consumers, you need to workout how it’s actually going to do that. This might require you to do a lot of research, and you’ll have to make sure that your application is even technologically possible. Just for example, I’ll use a very bad idea for a web app: Let’s say your idea is an app that’s a digital pocket-mirror. It’s brilliant! It will enable women to put their makeup on right in front of their computer without a mirror. There’s only a couple small problems: 1. It defies the laws of physics. 2. Computers already have built-in cameras that are much better than mirrors anyways. I know, not a very good example, but hopefully it gets the point across. You really need to make sure you know how your app is going to do what it does.

3. Who Is Your Target Audience?

Maybe you figured this out when you first had your idea; maybe you figured this out in the first step of planning; or maybe you’re not exactly sure. Whichever the case may be, this is the phase in planning in which you really need to narrow down your target audience and get specific. For example, maybe your web application is for musicians. OK, that’s all well and good, and it sounds specific enough, but what kind of musicians are we talking about? Are we talking about young, novice musicians; teenagers, perhaps? Are we talking about older, seasoned players? Are we talking about musicians of a particular style, like jazz or classical? See, all of these different types of musicians might react to your app differently depending on where they’re coming from. Is a 65-year old going to use your app or be interested in it the same way a 16-year old is just because they’re both musicians? Really knowing your audience can give you a lot to consider.

4. Sketch!

Yeah, we’re working on computers, but the best web apps start on a piece of paper. A couple of months ago a client sent me a doodle he made of what he wanted his website to look like. It was nothing fancy — just some boxes, circles, and filler text — but it made all the difference in the world. He knew exactly what he wanted because he sketched it out ahead of time, and then I knew exactly what he wanted because he showed it to me. Get out a piece of paper and actually draw what your app is going to look like. Come at it from a user’s point of view and really take some time to think about how people are going to approach and interact with the user interface.

5. Get In Touch with the Right People

Lastly, if you’re not a developer, then you’ll need to hire someone, or a company, to develop your app. Right here is a good place to start 😉

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