Winning app design for business success

Winning app design for business success

Currently there are over two million mobile apps available at the Apple store. In the last five years over 100 billion apps have been downloaded. These figures reflect our digital world. Smart phones have 80% penetration and we spend an average of over 14 hours a day on our screens. As written elsewhere, there is less than a 0.07% chance of an app being a commercial success. The challenge with any design is to provide an app that encourages trial-repeat-referral behaviour which will build volumes, loyalty, revenues and valuations.

In our work with clients we find success is a function of understanding the contextual limits as well as essential design parameters. With Yahoo!, Marissa Meyer described these as “fast, responsive and beautiful”. Our formula was: 2-5-1-8. Applying this formula has allowed us to steer teams (entrepreneurs, developers, marketers and owners) and there apps to business success.

There are several contextual considerations.

Share of behaviour. Develop an elegant solution to a big need. It needs to form a seamless part of the user’s daily routines. It need not be a “42” solution but meet a need within a crowded daily schedule (eg Skyscanner for flights, Uber for taxis services). Dating service shave a different dynamic and usage pattern than food delivery.

The business model. This shapes demand and the competitive dynamics.

“For free” is a mirage, which many startups still pursue – every business needs a means to generate revenues to cover costs and time expended. According oin industry sources over 76% of app revenues are derived form instore purchases. Apps need to be diesgined to entice download and use, woth payment being made for in-the-experience usage.

There are four essential business models: (i) Gaming – such as Candy Crush; (ii) E-commerce – PayPal, Square, Amazon etc; (iii) Consumer Audiences/Advertising – Snapchat, Instagram; (iv) Enterprise services – DropBox, FireEye etc.

Crowded screen real estate. Any smartphone only has certain amount of homepage space for apps. The average smartphone user has 24 apps on her/his device, of which less than half are used on a daily basis. Will the app fit beside one’s social media icons of Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Instagram etc.

Understand the timing and dynamics. An app needs to be business focused. App designs and their businesses fall into three broad categories. Those that fail (the vast majority); a small percentage that make it to sustainable and profitable performance level and; the micro-portion of mega billion dollar apps

It is difficult to generalize about volumes but an app that can’t garner at least a few thousand new users on launch date, that can’t grow to tens of thousands within two months and hundreds of thousands within six months has weaknesses. A winning app has a Day One pick-up of at least 10,000 new users! Then one has a notion that it may be a real ‘winner.  “Stickiness” is important; users come and go; the net has to be an addition. A winning billion dollar app has 50 million monthly average users with a 50% retention rate. A successful app has long gestation period.

It takes at least two years to get an app from concept to commercial launch. Even then the success rate is low. Statistics show that it can take seven years and three failed attempts to get a truly winning concept. King’s “Candy Crush” was born on its 13th attempt after four years. It is not sufficient to be listed on the Apple App Store. You can’t push a noodle, one needs users to pull your noodle through to build volumes and generate revenues to cover the enterprises own costs, including the 30% commission charged by Apple or Google Play!

Get the right team and financing in place.

To date, many of the successful apps have been driven by individual entrepreneurs. Corporates have understood the essential vital qualities of apps for commerce and their value; yet they are poorly placed to develop winning apps. Corporates can support a dedicated team. At its core the team is an entrepreneur with the concept and passion but able to understands the value of working with others and business disciplines. Fail fast requires guts, but is an essential aspect of success.

In a world of QE easy money there is an ocean of financing available and that is driving tenuous valuations. Budget and finance a ‘proof of concept’ including a proto team for the first three to twelve months. Then decide to “proceed” or “fail”. Again estimates vary but precedents reveal the total sum to develop a robust gamma app is between €70-250,000 for development, testing, market trials, critical capabilities and overheads (if sweat equity is included). Anything more is waste. Once one moves from a gamma version to a beta then the subsequent financing can be justified to get to a commercially viable alpha funded. The myriad angels, accelerators, funds and crowdfunding sites are available. However, the large number of, but not discussed, failures of crowdfunding are a warning. For corporates the ‘buy’ vs ‘build’ needs to be clearly articulated.

With those contextual aspects decided and in place one can delve into the key design principles of a commercially successful mobile app design

  • 2: Two-tap: Once the app is up and running it should not take more than two taps do anything the app offers.
  • 5: Five points: On any page there must be less than five points of difference between font, font size, colour range and contrasts, size, depth, typography, media etc. More than five points and the page becomes cluttered and busy; detracting from the reader’s attention and use. Compare the cleanliness of Apple’s home page
  • 1: One button: This one push should cover almost all the requirements of the user. The green button on a photocopier is often used as an example. Flickr’s button follows the classic lead the now old i-pod or ancient green button of any photocopier.
  • 8: Eight other elements need to be considered.
    • Function over Form
    • Performance
    • Simple
    • Match App and Site
    • Engage the design team early
    • Build for core users
    • Optimize and balance design for performance
    • Connectivity to other devices and apps

So for eaxmple, if one compares competing apps against context and the 2-5-1-8 principles; say for digital taxi services, such as Hailo and Uber, the latter wins through every time.

These 2-5-1-8 design principles are intuitive, yet they remain strangely absent from many past and currently being developed apps; let alone sites. The wasted time, money, and emotions are not worth the effort. No need to re-invent the wheel, just make it better! That will improve UI and CX to build user volumes, repeats, referrals and revenues.

We at Raktas have had the opportunity and pleasure in working with entrepreneurs, financiers and their teams to refine concepts and launch web based businesses. Contact us!

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Justin Jenk is the Managing Partner of Raktas – we offer solutions where decision-makers face complex issues with regard to captruing value from growth and restructruing opportunities. Justin is a business professional with a successful career as a manager, advisor, investor and board member. He is a graduate of Oxford and Harvard. Justin can be found at or

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