[AppCrafting] Design Vs Development

I say in one of my talks that development is not the most important part of making apps since design is at least at the same level. In this post I want to give some insights of what I mean. Let’s imagine that there is something I want to do with my phone and I check if there is an app for that.

Your first problem should be some sort of SEO equivalent: You want to appear high in the lists for the common related search terms. But lets imagine you have that sorted out.

The user has a problem, searches for a solution and finds two (or more) suitable options. Obviously people are going to install one first, and if that app works fine for them, they are very likely to stick with it and not even try the second one. They will only seek for a replacement if they are not completely happy with the initial choice.

The first choice

Which app will users install? The one they expect the most from. I don’t know how the decision is done for sure, but there are two important factors:

  • Average rating & number of ratings
  • Visual aspect

These two factors can combine in many ways, and that will depend of each user. This means that a not very good looking app with lots of good ratings has a chance of being installed and an app with gorgeous screenshots and few ratings has a chance as well.

Since the ratings are not under your reach, your safer bet is to attract users with a great design.

If the first choice they make looks pretty enough and works nice enough they are not going to bother trying other app, but what will happen when one of them is not sufficient?

The seek for a replacement

You may get more reviews if you were there first (a.k.a no other option) but if your app has a clumsy UI users will not be completely happy and from time to time they will look for an app with the same functionality but better looking. In this case the design is important to keep a leader position by not making people want to look for a replacement.

On the other hand, let’s imagine that you have the best looking app. You have a lot done. A bunch of people is going to install it based on the featured graphic, screenshots and so on, but here is when development comes into play.

A nice design is going to bring you users, but it is the functionality of the app which is going to keep them with it. Again, if your app looks pretty and works nice they are not going to bother trying other app, but what will happen if the app is slow, crashes, misbehaves or misses key features?

The delusional moment

What happens in that the app does not fit the expectations and then the users are going to be frustrated. It is very clear to me that two things will follow:

  • They are going to try the other app
  • They are going to give you bad ratings

A nice design puts high expectations (as a high rating does it as well) and if your screenshots put the stakes high and the development is not on par then the frustration is going to be much bigger.

A user that has an app that works and replaces it with other that is better looking will give a good review to the second one (he is not necessary frustrated), while a user that replaces a bad developed app with another one that works is more likely to leave a bad review on the first one. A frustrated user is very likely to give a 1 star rating.

People want apps that look nice and work fine, there are thresholds for both characteristics. But while in one case you may be giving a good review to a competitor, in the other you are risking a bad review to yourself. It is harder to frustrate a user with a mediocre design that works than with a nice design that fails.

And then the snowball effect of bad reviews will roll and the design will be more and more irrelevant in the decision process of being the first choice.

That’s why you should care a lot about the design, but never, ever, put development in a lower place.

Note: This post was inspired by the official Magic the Gathering(r) app and how it states to already existing apps such M:tG Tracker.