As my PhD supervisor, Carl Gutwin, says: “Ideas are cheap. Good ideas are hard”. Through my years designing mobile apps, I’ve thought hard about what it takes to make a compelling app. What, exactly, makes an app a hit?
This is, of course, a loaded question. Apps that fulfill a real human need are easier than those that are just entertainment. For example, productivity apps solve real human needs: people need to track expenses, so spreadsheets; people want to make their photos awesome, so Photoshop; people need to manage their huge inboxes, so Mailbox.
When an app is for content creation, you give people a set of tools, and they use them to solve their needs. This is clear in the productivity examples above. In the app world, though, most apps are not for content creation: the huge majority of apps are geared towards content consumption, like book readers, news aggregators, and social media networks.
The main problem in content consumption apps is: where does the content come from? It is incredibly time consuming to create new content for your users every day, as any blogger will attest. Yet, to ensure users continue to re-engage with your app, you need to give them something new.
One trick becoming more and more common is to get your users to create the content for others to consume. Social media networks are a great example of this. Facebook and Instagram don’t have to sit down every morning and come up with something compelling: their users, while engaging with their platforms, create the content that others consume. This sounds like a big of a trick, but given how successful these platforms are, you would be hard pressed to say it doesn’t work.
So here’s the lesson. One kind of great app is to solve a real human need (like productivity apps), while also getting your users to create the actual content. GasBuddy is my favourite example of this concept. GasBuddy solves a real need: people want cheap gas, so let’s show them where can they get it today. Instead of getting a crew to call around every morning, the app depends on its user base to produce this content by posting prices they observe in their daily lives. Essentially, by tricking their users into creating content for others to consume.
Andre Doucette is the lead interaction designer at Push Interactions. With his background in human computer interaction, he believes that thoughtful design can delight users in ways we can only thus far imagine.