[Editor’s Note: This article was originally run on Optimal Partners Blog–a source of news and information for today’s higher ed IT staff and leadership. To read more, visit the blog at http://blog.optimal-partners.com/]
Mobile apps are meant to give your students a solution to a specific problem, for example, an app for dining services. The type of mobile app your team creates may vary depending upon your users’ needs. Regardless of what problem you’re trying to solve, here are a few key points that you should consider before you begin development.
1. Have you pinpointed your goal?
When developing a mobile app for university students, you want to make sure that you have a goal in mind. Do you want to create an app that connects them to academic support? Do you want the app to supplement their residential life experience?
Poll your students to find out what would be most useful to them. Their feedback can help your team determine what components of the app to focus on first. Depending on your app’s success, you can release updates that include more features.
Garnering student feedback can happen in many ways, from a poll to a survey to in-person conversations. We suggest getting your marketing department involved and creating a campaign to promote the app before development begins. This will allow you to get the feedback you’ll need from your target audience while also building buzz around the app by getting your target audience excited.
Your feedback should not only identify the needs of your population but also specific details about their usage, allowing your team to consider the various mobile devices that your students use.
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2. Are you using the app to further your university’s brand?
How the app fits into your overall brand may be up to your marketing team depending upon their rules for branding. There are general rules you should follow, however, like having the interface reflect your school’s colors or using appropriate photographs of campus services and student life.
In general, the more the app is tied to your brand, the more your marketing department can push it as a necessity for students to be engaged members of the campus community. If you’re interested in continuing to engage your students, talk to your marketing team about using students to help you design the app: hold a contest to decide on the app’s name or contact your fine arts department about working together to engage students in designing the app’s shortcut icon.
3. Have you researched what’s been done?
Once you’ve pinpointed what type of app you’ll be making, start looking into what apps other universities have developed. Researching what’s been done is a crucial step in this process because it provides the chance to learn from different perspectives.
Document what you like and don’t like about the other apps out there; note what went well, what went wrong, and how your team could improve on their ideas. Your research should also include personal perspectives. There are plenty of professionals that are willing to talk to you about their projects, so don’t be afraid to reach out!
4. Have you considered your resources?
While you should always focus on creating a viable product, you’ll want to make sure you can stay within your approved constraints. Make sure you have all of the pieces in place to successfully complete your app’s development and move it into testing.
If your app’s success depends on integrating with another system, make sure you have all of the information to successfully integrate them. While unforeseen issues are bound to come up, accounting for what you can will make the development process that much easier for you. The best piece of advice we can offer is this: keep it simple.
5. Have you considered how to test your app?
There are a number of ways to get feedback on your app. We recommend conducting a focus group—that way you can get customized feedback and see user reactions to the app. A focus group will provide you with more valuable feedback than sending out a survey with a link to test the product.
You will want to consider your testing schedule—you should not only have users test and provide feedback after the prototype is completed but also collect feedback once you have a user interface developed and at various other stages to get feedback on an ongoing basis. Keep your testing methods flexible, as requirements and user needs will change over the course of your implementation.
Developing a mobile app for your students is just one way for your university to stay current with the trends in higher education. While every university’s apps will be different, as every university’s needs are different, we hope that these key points will help you to smoothly and successfully develop a valuable mobile app for your students.
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