4 Stages of App Development: Part 1, Pre-Design


Pocket App breaks down the app development process into four different stages: pre-design, design, development and support. We can take a modular approach and handle these stages individually, but the biggest value-add we can offer is taking a project from beginning to end.

With that in mind, we’ve created this series to walk you through the full process, explaining what each stage is and what clients get out of it. Starting at the very beginning: pre-design.

What is the pre-design stage?

Pre-design is the first stage of the app development process, where we take a project from the initial brief – whether that’s one line or thirty pages – into a workable strategy. This means working out everything from what the product’s about and who it’s aimed at, to what technologies it should use and how we’ll measure success.

Pre-design makes sure you get off to the right start with the design and development of your app, and ensures a great final product.

What happens during the pre-design stage?

The first part of the pre-design process is identifying the core concept and objective of the project.

To do this, we start with a workshop. This a one- or two-day collaborative session where the clients gets to access the expertise of our entire team, across UX specialists and business analysts, as well as our senior team, who bring their thirty-plus years of experience in mobile to bear on the project.

We advise that clients take a similarly cross-disciplinary approach at this point, and bring members from marketing, legal… any department that will want to have a say later in the project. If it’s an internal app, it’s also a good idea to bring along someone who’s actually going to be on the ground using the app.

This makes sure that all these stakeholders have a voice at the outset, rather than once the process is underway.

The workshop is followed by a research and analysis phase. As part of this, we construct user personas, which help us understand the goals and obstacles of the real people who are going to be using the app.

We also look at comparable apps already in market. This is harder for internal apps which aren’t on the app stores than it is for consumer-facing apps – but by looking across industries, at apps which have very similar user objectives, there are always learnings to be found and applied.

What are the outputs from pre-design?

At the end of the pre-design stage, clients are presented with a package of our recommendations, tech considerations, and a roadmap for the project.

The recommendations lay out a creative vision for the project and how we target it at the users, and what the objectives are, from both a user and business perspective.

The roadmap includes a content audit of all the client’s suggested functionality and future plans, laying out what will be included in the initial launch and plans for the first few phases beyond that. This roadmap can vary in length, sometimes stretching as far ahead as five years.

Tech considerations is where we identify the best approach for this project. We’re technology agnostic, so this might recommend that, based on the functionality you need, you may actually be best with a website rather than a native app. Depending on the client, this might also include deeper details such as a system architecture diagram and data flow for APIs.

Together, this package lays out everything that both we and the client need to know about the project ahead, so we can ensure the best final results. We sometimes refer to it as ‘the brief it would have been great to get the first time’.

How do I know if I need a pre-design phase?

People often think they can jump straight to the design process, but this can potentially lead to a bad final result. If the ideas are all coming from one source, who hasn’t necessarily done all the research or considered all angles, then this can cause problems to develop further along the process.

Ultimately, it comes down to one question: Is your brief detailed enough that someone could go away and build the finished product? But it can be hard to know that yourself for sure. Consider whether you can answer all of these questions:

  • Have I established what my users want?
  • What’s the main objective of the project?
  • Do I know what technologies are best to use?
  • What is the USP for my product? What is it attempting to fix, change or improve?
  • Does it need to be an app in itself? Could it be a piece of functionality within something else?
  • Have I looked at all of my competitors, and similar apps in comparable industries?

If you’ve already answered some but not all of these questions, be aware that the pre-design phase can grow or shrink to fit each client’s needs.

What do I need to know before starting pre-design?

To start the process, we just need to know what you’re hoping to achieve with the project.

Ideally, your brief should have isolated what the problem is, what they think mobile could do to help, and worked out a rough idea of the objective – but the bare minimum is simply knowing what the issue you want to solve with mobile.

This is often something you could write down in a single paragraph. It could be as simple as ‘we lose loads of money from using a paper-based process for this thing, we want to digitise it’.

We can help fill the holes, but we need to know where they are in the first place. Once we have that single problem, we can start working to solve it.