BLUF: Develop a MockUp of your App and Test it with 5 Potential Users Before You Ever Talk to a Developer
Sketch Out Your App Using a Mockup Tool
Creating a mockup of your app is a pivotal part of the app development process and there are many ways to do it - from the low tech pencil and paper approach to tools specially designed specifically for this process. Another way that may not seem so obvious is good old Power Point. Yes, you can develop your mockup in something as simple as PowerPoint and it can be surprisingly effective. You can even use hot links in your buttons that take the user to the next ‘screen’ (slide).
This is actually a technique that Google Ventures uses and details in their book Sprint, which goes over in great detail how to ensure your app is thoroughly fleshed out before you engage developers (who cost real money). Keynotopia lays out the process in this helpful article here.
Other helpful mockup tools:
Balsamiq Wireframes is a graphical tool to sketch out user interfaces for websites and web/desktop/mobile applications. Think of it as a UI wireframing tool that reproduces the experience of sketching on a notepad or whiteboard, but using a computer. Balsamiq focuses on the ideation phase, providing you with a clean tool that lets you get in the flow and stay focused on structure rather than colors and icons, which are things you should focus on much later in the process.
Balsamiq Wireframes is sold three ways: as a web application accessed with a web browser (starting at $9/month), as a Desktop application for Windows or Mac (starting at $89/user), and as a Google Drive integration (subscriptions cost $5/month or $50/year per user). You can also try out Balsamiq Cloud for free, or download a free desktop trial.
2. Invision is another worthwhile mockup tool. This app provides design tools and educational resources for teams to navigate every stage of the product design process, from ideation to development. They connect all aspects of your product design workflow.
They offer a free plan for up to 2 active users, a Pro plan for up to 15 active users starting at $7.95/month, and they will also price an Enterprise plan with no user limits on a company by company basis.
Now Test Your MockUp with 5 Users
Running through your app, even in its mockup form, with 5 users is more than enough because you will quickly see the major changes you need to make to your product. Be careful when testing - don’t let the person(s) who developed the app mockup say anything (and I mean anything) to the users. That person(s) can silently observe from another room. It must be a neutral third party who interacts with the users. You don’t want the developers to interrupt the user or explain any of the interactions. If the user can’t navigate the app on their own, that’s an important data point and is something you want to take note of now! After testing is complete, take the time to implement all of the issues and information you learned during the testing process. Keep testing until you have a product that flows and functions correctly.
Once you have a solid mockup of your core functions built and tested, now it is time to spend the money to develop your app!