Archive | August, 2011

15 questions to see if your app idea has legs

31 Aug

iPad app concept

So you have an idea for an app. You have visions of it hitting the top ten lists, going global and earning you plenty of cash. You’ve been fantasising about giving up the day job and making a business out of your app idea right?

You’re excited right now, and you should be. There are some very successful apps out there and once the ball starts rolling and people spread the word, you can find success quickly. But sometimes excitement can lead to blindness to some of the limitations of the idea because you’re so optimistic about it working. So before you hand in your resignation, let’s take a step back for a second and answer some questions to help you focus and make sure the idea really has legs.

Be honest with yourself and try to remain as objective as possible when answering them. It might help to talk them through with a friend, your family or your partner too.

Good ideas are common...

About your motivation and commitment

1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much better is this idea from your previous ideas?

2. Think back to the last app idea you were excited about, what were the reasons that stopped you from following through with it?

3. Are any of those reasons valid with your new idea?

4. Some app ideas take a while to realise. If you were to just focus on this app for the next 18 months will it hold your attention? Will you still be excited about it then?

often the difference between...

 

About your app idea and its potential

We all have ideas for a new app or a new business but commitment and courage are what turns an idea into reality. But just making the idea happen doesn’t mean it will be successful. The idea has to be a good one and has to offer something of value to the people who will use it.

5. Do some research, how many other examples can you find of similar apps. How different is yours? Realistically what do you need to do to make yours even better?

6. If no-one else is doing it, why do you think that is? Is there a good reason why other people or companies haven’t taken advantage of a similar idea?

7. What problem does your app solve? How big a problem is it? How do people currently resolve this problem?

8. Be as specific as possible, who would use your idea? Why would they use it? When would they use it?

9. Why would they use your app instead of what’s already available to them?

10. How would they know to use your app over current alternatives?

Making sure your idea is not just another one in a sea of similar ideas is critical to success. If there are already lots of people doing something similar, yours has to stand out and offer something better or different. You also have to be sure that people will use it over their existing choices and even more important, will be aware of your app as an option. Be really honest with yourself here, if you can’t get past these questions you could end up wasting time on a bad idea, instead of starting again with an even better one.

the way to get good ideas...

Practical considerations to creating your app

Ok, so if you’ve got this far and you’re still going strong, now you just need to get a bit more practical on how you’ll fulfil your idea

11. What resources will you need to make your idea happen? People, equipment, skills and so on.

12. Are these resources within your reach? Can you overcome the obstacles to find these resources?

13. How much money will it take for you to gain access to all these resources? How will you raise this money?

14. Imagine your idea is now complete. Working backwards, what were the major steps involved in getting there?

15. How much time will each of these stages take you? How will you find the time among your other commitments?

This last set of questions was designed to help you get a grip of the realistic and practical aspects of turning your ideas into reality. You’ll need a clear project plan and a clear vision to get there, especially if you’ll be bringing others in to help you create the app.

new ideas pass through...

Most app ideas end up staying in someone’s head or notebooks, and rarely get past the kind of questions and thinking set out above. Coming up with an idea is the easy part. Making it happen takes far more time and effort than some people realise. But, if the idea is good enough and your passion is strong enough, you might just find that you’re at the beginning of a very rewarding and exciting journey. Good luck!

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees

Only five users?

8 Aug

What do you mean we only need to test with five users? Are you mad? We’re used to doing research with hundreds and thousands of users, how can you possibly suggest that five users are enough?

Ok, so I may have dramatised this a little, but we’ve had many similar conversations over the years we’ve been doing usability. It crops up on a regular basis, so we thought it was about time we anticipated the question and dealt with it here on our blog.

 

Usability research is not like other types of market research

It’s easy to see how clients can feel that five users are only a drop in the ocean when they are used to dealing with higher numbers of respondents. But this is the point. Usability research is very different to other forms of market research. Most forms of market research deal with opinion gathering. What do customers think and feel about this brand?, How do they feel about the service we are offering?, and What do they perceive our brand to offer over competitors… When dealing with opinions, clearly five people isn’t going to cut it, you need hundreds to get a meaningful measure.

Most of the usability research we conduct is designed to identify problems with a website. We’re asked ‘Why is my service not converting as well as I was expecting?’, ‘Why do users drop out at this point?’, and ‘What can we do to encourage more users to register?’… We’re asked to find problems our clients know exist somewhere in the site, and to help them fix them. It’s not about what people think or feel, it’s about observing user behaviour and isolating problems with the service.

 

How many times do you need to see a problem occur?

The great thing about searching for problems is that when you spot them you usually know it. If the zip breaks on your trousers it’s obvious there’s a problem. If you spill your coffee, spot a dent in your car… The problems are obvious. Finding problems with a website or service isn’t so clear cut, but when you watch someone struggle to complete a task because of the way it is designed, irrespective of the user’s level of skill or experience, you usually know you’ve uncovered an issue.

Let’s say we’ve just observed a user get very confused with your online checkout process. You’re pretty sure you have an issue which may be preventing people from buying. To be sure you test another person and they struggle in the same place. Then another person hits the same barrier. How many do you need to see before you’re convinced? Another 5 people? 10 more? 100? Do you need it to be statistically significant before you’re convinced?

What about discovering problems elsewhere? Let’s say you’ve noticed a couple of people trip on a kink in the carpet outside your office, or you’ve spotted a couple of people slipping up on some wet marble flooring. How many more people do you need to see hurt themselves before you’re willing to fix it?

 

Testing with more than 5 users results in diminishing returns

Sure you can test with more people, and there is a chance that you won’t uncover any issues until your 6th or 7th user. But it is very unlikely if you’ve designed your tests to cover the core areas of the service. What is more likely is that by your 6th user you’ll start to see the same patterns of behaviour repeat over and over, and your value from the tests start to diminish.

You may have seen the great diagram put forward by Jakob Nielsen to show the diminishing returns of testing with more than five users.

We agree with this entirely, and what many people forget about the accompanying article http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20000319.html  is that he advocates testing with five people, fixing the issues, and then testing again. This is very much the way we like to work. We encourage many clients, who come to us with plans to recruit 15/20 people, to reduce their scope and break the project into chunks that allow for design changes to be made before new users are brought in.

You don’t need high numbers of users to identify usability problems. Don’t confuse usability research with other types of market research. If you want to gauge opinions about competing brands, then five people isn’t anywhere near enough. But if you want to identify barriers to purchasing on your website five users is usually enough.

So, are you convinced? Are five users enough?

 

 

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Damian Rees

About Damian Rees

Damian has worked as a usability and user experience consultant for over 13 years. He has worked in senior roles within companies like the BBC and National Air Traffic Services where he has researched and designed for users in a variety of different contexts including web applications, voice recognition, and air traffic control interfaces. Follow Damian on twitter @damianrees