The four stages of app development

Mobile apps have become big business in recent years. Statistics show that 21 percent of Millennials open an app more than 50 times per day. The popularity of apps is undeniable, but the sheer number of these custom software applications can make it challenging to get results when developing your apps.

What is meant by app development?

App development is how developers create an application that can use on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. While app development sometimes includes creating a web-based or desktop version of the app, most app development projects are deployed on mobile and tablet devices. We’ve produced the following guide to walk you through the entire process, explaining each phase and what clients get.

Stage 1: Preliminary Design

Pre-design is the initial stage of the app development process, where you can take a project from its initial brief – whether it’s one line or thirty pages – to a workable strategy. It means working out everything from what the product is about and who it’s aimed at to the technologies used and how we’ll measure success.

The pre-design phase ensures that you get off on the right foot with the design and development of your app and end up with a great final product.

How do I know if I require a preliminary design phase?

People often think they can go straight into the design process, but that can lead to a poor result. If all the ideas come from one source that hasn’t necessarily done thorough research or considered all aspects, it can lead to problems later in the process.

Ultimately, it boils down to one question: is your brief detailed enough for someone to create the finished product? But it can be challenging to know for sure yourself. Think about whether you can answer all of these questions:

  • Have I figured out what my users want?
  • What is the primary goal of the project?
  • Do I know which technologies are best to use?
  • What is the USP for my product? What do I want it to fix, change or improve?
  • Does it need to be a standalone application? Could it be an item of functionality within another application?
  • Have I looked at all my competitors and similar apps in similar industries?

If you’ve currently addressed some yet not every one of these concerns, realize that the pre-design stage can grow or reduce depending on the client’s needs.


What does need to know before I start the pre-design phase?

At the beginning of the process, we need to know what you want to achieve with the project.

Preferably, it would be good if you had worked out in your brief what you hope to achieve from mobile and have a rough idea of the goal – but the bare minimum is that you know what problem you want mobile to solve.

That is often something you could write down in a single paragraph. It can be as simple as, “We’re losing a lot of money by using a paper-based process for this thing. We want to digitize it.”

Phase 2: Design

Once you have finished the preliminary design phase and have a comprehensive recommendation on how to proceed, you can begin the design process.

What happens if I don’t go through the preliminary design phase?

Sometimes, especially with larger companies, the client has done all the user research themselves, but it’s essential to ensure the concept has been thoroughly validated. Otherwise, problems can arise down the road. These problems often include unrealistically long feature lists, failure to break down features between the initial and first release, and lack of research on other applications already on the market.

Most importantly, make sure the final product meets your vision as an app owner and what the end-users want. Once that is determined, it is time to start designing your app.


What happens in the design phase?

In the design phase, your app’s UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) design are conceived and revised until you have a final design that developers can then implement.

This phase is a bit more fluid than other phases because input from one of the later phases may require going back to the drawing board for implementation.

We start by creating the wireframe: It is a UX-based view of how the app works, capturing the flow between screens. The wireframe shows how these screens are connected and where you can go from these screens. For instance, if you have a login screen, it must also branch to the registration and forgotten password screens.

Wireframes are usually very large: They can contain a hundred or more screens – including features that aren’t introduced on day one to ensure we know how they will fit into the overall flow. They’re beneficial for showing how many taps it takes to get from one place to the next within the app. For example, if it’s a news app and you have to tap six times to get to the latest article, something needs to be changed.

Once we have completed the wireframe usually through a few feedback cycles with the client then move on to the visual design and create the initial concepts. It usually takes two or three of the app’s main screens and explores different ways could handle them visually.

The final phase of the design is user testing: The prototype is presented to users – if it’s an internal app, likely the people within the organization who will use the actual app once it’s up and running – to get their feedback. Above all, we want to ensure that users quickly understand what the app does and can access the essential features.

We use the testing results to make a final, more informed revision before we begin development.


What are the results of the design phase?

At the end of the design phase, you will have a complete UX wireframe, designs for all app screens, possibly separately for the iOS and Android versions, and an interactive prototype that can be set up on any variety of devices.

The prototype helps get a feel for how the app will feel and flow between screens before developing the final product. Having a functioning prototype makes it easier to get the concept across to stakeholders than a spoken explanation and a few screens. Still, you can also use it to pitch the final app idea – whether to investors or resell within your organization.

What must I look for in the design phase?

A little research at your desk can be very helpful: With a bit of online research, you can quickly get an idea of what else regarding similar apps from competitors and other industries. That can help you flesh out expectations for your app, determine what’s possible, and identify the gap in the advertisement you’re trying to fill.

Learn to separate your opinions from those of your users: Customers often have the most influence in the design phase. Even if you don’t have a technical background, everyone has a personal opinion about an app’s appearance based on their own experiences. That’s fine – it’s a collaborative process, but it’s also essential to separate your feelings from what end users want.

Just because you like a feature in a social media app doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for an internal inventory management app. If you like a specific color, but research shows it is inappropriate for your target audience, take a step back.

Consider the mobile variation of your brand design: Certain design elements look great in print or even on the web but don’t work on a smaller mobile screen. Large companies often have solid brand guidelines, but they may not have considered how they translate to mobile devices.

A simple example: does your logo fit well in the top bar of the device or an app icon? If you take the entire logo – especially if it has a tagline – and try to shrink it down, it won’t work. We can help you develop a mobile-friendly version of the logo, or work with your brand team, if you have one, to determine how you want your brand to look in the mobile space.

Phase 3: Development

Now that the preliminary design phase is complete, it’s time to develop the website.

What do I need to get started with development?

In the design phase, you should have created a wireframe that shows all the screens of the app and how they connect, as well as visual designs for each of those screens. In our case, we also create an interactive prototype to give a sense of how it will feel to use the app.

One final important component lies at the intersection of design and development: a detailed technical specification. It is where detailed annotations are added to the wireframe – how the app will work and look. For example, when a screen reads in external data, where does it come from? Which server do they come from?

What happens in the development phase?

Quite simply, the app is developed. In our case, this happens in so-called development sprints. It is part of the agile methodology and divides the development into about two weeks each, focusing on a specific part of the functionality.

At the end of this sprint, a build is released for review and testing – usually for the customer and internally. A quality control group checks that the new performance works and that nothing has been broken by its introduction that was already there.

It’s best to work transparently, so the customer can follow each stage of the process closely and know how everything is progressing.

When all the development sprints are complete – there are usually seven in a project – you have a UAT (user acceptance testing) version that the customer can test and sign off on.

At this point, the application moves to RC (Release Candidate) status, where all the necessary improvements are made so that it can be published in the app stores or on the customer’s website, or whatever the release is for that particular project. Expect that there will be a few iterations of this version.

What are the results of the development phase?

At the end of the development phase, of course – and this is the most important thing – you have the developed product itself. But we also give our customers the full functional specification and source code for the project.

We firmly believe that this is the customer’s project, not ours. Although it’s better to continue collaborating, you can do whatever you want with the app instead of being tied to a single developer.

How long does the development take?

The entire development process to the final version of your app usually takes between three and six months.

If it takes longer, we advise an early release with some of the full functionality so you can start learning. And even if that’s not the case, it’s important to remember that the app on day one won’t contain all the planned features during development. We include all ideas at this stage, but some are held back for future versions since development is usually limited by schedule and budget.

That is helpful because you can learn a lot from the analytics once an app is live. Maybe one part of the app is used more than expected, and something intended to be the main feature is largely ignored.

These insights can inform your plans as the app evolves beyond day one. You could put more resources into the unexpectedly popular feature. It might be worthwhile to stop further development of the little-used feature – or work to brand it within the app better. These are considerations for the next phase, support, and maintenance.

What should I look for in the development phase?

Security is essential, but there is a spectrum.

We are often asked how secure an app requires to be. There is no single industry standard for app security, so you should consider: how sensitive is the data involved? It depends on the specifics of your project.

Suppose it’s a recipe app that only stores a list of the user’s supplies. Even if the data isn’t susceptible – like names and addresses that can access in other ways – you should know how your customers are likely to see it.

However, if you’re working with personal data or an internal app that processes commercially sensitive data, this needs to be a priority.

Dynamic features require a reliable data source.

For instance, if you want your app to pull up a list of nearby restaurants that serve a particular dish, you need to consider where that data comes from and how you access it.

Even if it’s internal data, legacy systems can be an obstacle. They may not be designed for the number of calls a consumer-facing service can make; in older organizations, they may even be older than the Internet.

In this case, our solution is usually to build a middleware layer optimized for communicating with the app, which sits between the client servers and the app itself. That retrieves data regularly and makes it available to users in the app without requiring any rework of the legacy systems.

Understand the difference between the first version and the last version.

Iteration is an essential part of the process. So don’t expect every variation you see to be fully functional. It’s better to see these early versions than to wait until the end because it allows you to influence development while it’s still underway.

Part of the agile approach is that if your top priorities change over the life of the project, which they probably will, you can swap out functionality on a modular basis as long as the complexity doesn’t change.

Phase 4: Support

Having gone through all the phases described in this guide, you should now have a working app already being used by your target audience. Now begins the fourth and final phase – support.

In the support phase, the first thing you need to do is take care of any bugs or teething problems. No matter how much testing during the development phase, there will always be something unexpected, for example, when used by an ancient device or an earlier operating system. These issues require to be fixed as soon as they occur.

The next part of the support that can be scheduled is the announcement of significant new devices or an operating system update. Most minor updates will not cause problems with an application, but when there are significant changes, they can cause problems. It’s essential that when you prepare your app development budget, you make sure to plan resources for these incidents.

However, it’s essential to consider the frequency of your app updates. It would be best to strike the right balance between introducing new features and not overloading them with unnecessary new functionality.

We hope you found the overview of the four phases we recommend for any app development a worthwhile project. As you will see, there is more to building an app than just having a suggestion for a product or service that you want to launch. However, with the proper planning, processes, and resources, there’s no reason why your app idea can’t evolve into a robust and successful solution that will serve your audience, internal or external, for many years to come.

You need a team that understands your business ecosystem. It allows you to discover the market and understand your needs, requirements, and capabilities. With our expertise in app development, we can help you create a truly bespoke strategy and unlock the full potential of mobile technology for your business. For more please visit Seobea 

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