How Not to Design a Mobile App

Noah Lichtenstein of Cowboy Ventures recently posted an article to TechCrunch, “What Studying Students Teaches Us About Great Apps“. In their survey of 1,000 high school and college students, they asked about existing mobile usage, and then they asked the question, “if you had a magic wand to create an app that you would use every day, what would the app do?

I hate that question.

You won’t get meaningful data. People suck at speculation. You are far better off studying their behavior to derive your insights.

The low-hanging fruit in the mobile space is gone. If your approach is to ask “what would be neat to do on mobile?”, you are likely to either come up with something already done or not very worthwhile. I know of one talented team that’s been tinkering with phone technology for several years hoping to stumble upon something brilliant, and they’re still drifting. Unless your mission is either fun hacking or true long-term R&D, technology in search of a problem can be a dispiriting place to be.

You shouldn’t approach it as a “mobile app” at all, but instead have a need that you want to solve, and then think through how a portable, pervasive, connected, always-on device might contribute to solving it.

By the way, if you are going to ask the magic wand question, a better way to ask it is this: “If you could wave a magic wand and solve any problem, what would you want to solve?”

But even better, you have actually spotted a need that you are personally passionate about and think worth solving.