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I've been working with clients who want to create new native apps. They already have apps for their business and want to create apps to reach a broader audience. So, my company (and me, by default) is tasked with coming up with app concepts.

The problem is not coming up with app concepts. The challenge is coming up with apps that will need people's needs and solve problems.

Our approach has been to conduct a stakeholder workshop to:

  1. draw out user personas with stakeholders from the client (company)
  2. brainstorm on app concepts that will meet the needs of these personas
  3. list down features that could potentially be in the app

Needless to say, clients always have tight budgets and we usually go down this path. However, the problem with this approach is that it is all based on assumptions and hypothesis. And the apps may not meet the needs of real people with real problems.

So, I've been trying to find out what the best ways to conduct user research are in order to:

Validate app concepts

That is, find out if there is a need for the concept that we came up with. We want to avoid asking leading questions or questions about the future, like: will you use "this" app? Or what do you think about this kind of app etc.

I'd like to know your thoughts and appreciate any insightful comments and suggestions/recommendations.

Thanks!

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Three things that spring to the top of my head:

  1. Check that the problem is real with brief ethnographic-style interviews. Look to talk to the potential customers around the problem space the app concepts are intended to solve - rather than asking direct questions about the app itself, or the specific problem. For example if I was asking about something that would help hairdressers avoid missed appointments I wouldn't ask directly about missed appointments. I'd ask things like "Tell me about your worst day last week?". If missed appointments are a serious problem the topic will come up naturally. If not…

  2. If the problem is real, do people try and solve it with apps? Look for people who have tried to solve the problem with the app space. Look for requests for an "App that does X". Look for people who say things like "You can do X with OtherApp, but it's not ideal". Ask your interviewees how they have tried to solve the problem — and what things they searched for on the app stores.

  3. If the problem is real, and people are trying to solve it with apps, look to some simple MVP to track demand. Make a mock sign-up page, point some appropriate google ads at it, push it at the folk you found before who were trying to solve the problem, etc. Does anybody sign up?

For example…

I did some work last month where the client thought there was space for an app around planning a particular kind of activity.

We did a couple of dozen brief interviews with folk in the domain. This rapidly showed us planning wasn't a problem. Indeed the things the app was intended to engineer away were actually seen as pleasurable activities.

So original idea was a dud.

However, folk did mention a few other problems that they had. And in one case suggested that "they'd like an app that did X".

We did a simple search in the app store and there were already many apps that did X - so those people weren't even looking. So it wasn't really that much of a problem for them.

A few of the other problems mentioned didn't have obvious fixes. And the client will probably be moving forward with some simple prototypes and experiments to test demand before they push-on with full app development.

  • Thanks, adrianh. This is helpful to get started. I appreciate you taking the time to respond. – stringtheory Mar 26 '15 at 3:29

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