Ideation: Create An App By Wondering Why Things Don’t Work As They Should
Marketing your apps in the App Store, building customer relations with a Support Center, and using deeplinks to expose native app content is great for increasing your userbase and bottom line, but… what if you have no app and no app ideas?
This article will guide you through the ideation phase of your app business, and tries to encourage you to come up with a dozen app ideas every day. It’s a kick-start for your app business, and even if you don’t want to become an app publisher, you can improve your critical thinking and problem-solving with the methods described in this article.
What Is Ideation?
Ideation is the process of generating ideas. You’ll be surprised at how many ideas you already generate every day. What’s for dinner? Oh look, we still have pasta and broccoli left. Promised to pick up a friend’s daughter from soccer, but also expect a client call? Call the client beforehand, or get to the soccer field first so you won’t have to take the call while driving.
You’re generating thousands of ideas every day. Most of those ideas involve planning and problem-solving. You need to allocate time and resources to different aspects of your life, and you use creative thinking to come up with solutions. Every person has the ability to create an idea out of thin air, but many do people do not realize their ideation potential is transferrable to other knowledge domains.
Many publishers of successful apps didn’t have any specific domain knowledge about designing, developing and publishing apps. They only had their main expertise, such as being a professional therapist, sports coach, management consultant or board game designer. Even if you think you’re not an expert, you still have your professional and personal perspective and way of thinking.
Stuck For Ideas? Let’s Get Unstuck!
Now that we’ve identified that anyone is capable of conceiving ideas, let’s look at a few ideation methods. You’re stuck for ideas, caught in the thick-of-thin and possibly tired of planning today’s activities. Say you get a glass of water, go sit on the couch and switch on the TV.
Wait… switch on the TV. How?
With the remote control of course! Thanks to the infrared LED in the remote control, the TV knows what button you pushed and switches to the right channel.
Imagine a world without TV remotes. How would you switch on the TV, and pick the right channel? We know how this happened, so the answer is easy: you’d walk over to the TV and push a few buttons to get it on the right channel. It works OK, right?
Then why did we ever invent the remote control? Because its inventor (Nikola Tesla, to be precise) asked three simple questions:
- How do we usually switch on our TV’s?
- Why do we do it like that?
- Is there a simpler, better, more productive way?
(For the sake of history: there were no TVs when Tesla lived. He pioneered the radio control though, in a demonstration of a radio-controlled boat. The first battery-operated radio-controlled FM/AM radio was available to consumers around 1939.)
Those three questions form the cornerstone of critical thinking and hold all the potential for generating ideas. As a thought experiment, try to ask yourself those 3 questions in the coming days.
First, define the workflow (i.e. “switching TV channels”) of an existing problem. Can’t recall any issues, problems or challenges? Feed your thoughts with these questions:
What frustrated me today? (I.e. the copier, your spouse, the lawnmower.)
What activity today went completely well, without a hitch?
What mistakes did I make today, and what kind of prior knowledge or tool could have avoided it?
Then, when you’ve identified the task or workflow that’s at fault, ask the 3 Nikola Tesla questions (How? Why? Simpler, better, more productive?)
Still stuck for ideas? The key of this exercise is to think outside the box, to lose your reference frame for a bit and literally wonder about. If you’re having trouble escaping reality, try this:
- Get to a place you frequent everyday, and look up. What do you see?
- Push a button you’re not supposed to push. (Try not to harm anyone or anything.)
- When walking, stop in your tracks, turn around and look at what was behind you. Count all the red (or green, blue, yellow) things you can see and name them. Seeing something out of the ordinary?
Try the above exercises for a couple of days, and write down any realizations you have. Could you identify a problem somewhere, something that’s not going as well as it should? Awesome! You’ve just identified a problem and thought about a possible solution for it.
What’s A Great App Idea?
Now that you’ve generated a couple ideas, it’s time to identify the good and the great ones. In general we can say that, based on the previous paragraph, any idea that’s good is one that solves a problem. But what makes a great idea?
See if you can categorize your idea into one of the following categories:
- The “X-for-Y”. It’s applying one concept you already know to a problem or situation in which this concept is unknown. Examples: transporting passengers for non-taxi’s (Uber), mass organization for discount coupons (Groupon), super-fast filtering of potential dates for single people (Tinder).
- The “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had …”. These are ideas that don’t fit in any category, but are categories on their own. They’re new, far-out and often technologically impossible. Of course, nothing is impossible. Examples: commercial spaceflight (SpaceX), ubiquitous electricity (Edison), self-aware and thinking computers (not available, so far).
- The “Significant Improvement”. It’s finding one little gear in a system that’s underperforming, and changing it to increase the output of that system by a 1000% or more. Examples: the remote control (Tesla), non-fossil fuel cars (Elon Musk/Tesla), TV dinner (Swanson & Sons).
Of course, there are many more categories of ideas. Let’s just stick with these for a while. In the above examples, did you notice none those ideas were truly unique at the time of invention?
- TV dinner is just prepackaged microwaveable food.
- Electricity and even the light bulb were invented before Edison started building his power generators and distributors.
- Man sent stuff to the moon way before Elon Musk was born.
In essence, the word “idea” can be interchanged freely with the word “solution”. In that sense, there are no good ideas and no bad ones: there’s only solutions to problems. But then… what’s a good solution? In a business sense, or in the app industry, it’s this: a good solution is one that people are willing to pay money for, an exchange of currency for value.
A good idea doesn’t need to be unique and uniqueness often doesn’t add anything in value. In business you sometimes want to be the “first mover” (i.e. the one who came up with a unique solution first), but being and not being a first mover has advantages and disadvantages that do not make one greater than the other.
We’ve gone a long way, didn’t we? Let’s summarize what you’ve learned from this article:
- Anyone has the potential to come up with great ideas.
- Uniqueness of an idea doesn’t matter, whether it solves a problem does.
- Generating ideas is as easy as wondering why the world works the way it works, and why that sometimes doesn’t work.
One last thought. Everything you see around you didn’t exist at one point in time, and then was invented by someone like you. All inventors wondered why things work the way they work. Even if you don’t want to become the next Nikola Tesla or Elon Musk, wondering about the world is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
About The Author
Reinder de Vries is an entrepreneur and app developer, who believes that there are not enough app makers in the world. He has developed 50+ apps and his code is used by millions of users all over the globe. When he’s not coding, he teaches aspiring developers how to make their own apps at LearnAppMaking.com.