10 key steps to designing a great university app

6. Take a look at your competition.

Part of knowing what you want is knowing what you don’t want, and often that knowledge can come through examination of peer products.

“When I was looking at creating an application, I examined other university’s apps,” explained Gates. “Many of them looked the same and required users to click through many buttons to get useful information. The tablet version was often simply a blown up version of the smartphone version, so resolution was often poor on tablets. I was not satisfied with these experiences.”

7. It doesn’t always have to be a resource-suck.

According to Matthew Draycott, enterprise associate at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at Glyndwr University, the costs of developing an app were prohibitive, until he was introduced to AppMakr—a solution which allowed the university to build an app cheaply with no real programming knowledge.

“I decided early on that to suit my level of skill I would keep the app simple, so I framed it as a news aggregator…Developing doesn’t have to be hard; there are so many great platforms like AppMakr or Red Foundry. The Life Hacker site is a good resource for information on web publishing and app development.”

8. Use tech-savvy students!

WMU’s Apple and Android apps were developed thanks to a senior engineering project by six computer science students.

“WMU Mobile has a number of distinctive features,” said Dr. Keith Hearit, WMU vice provost for strategic enrollment management in a WMU press release, “but what’s more impressive than the product, itself, is the way it was created. Typically, universities pay a vendor to create an app. We had six talented computer science majors design and create ours for their senior design project.”

The students worked under the supervision of Dr. John Kapenga, associate professor of computer science, and received academic credit for their work. They collaborated with a variety of campus offices, including Facilities Management for the map feature, legal affairs for wording on product liability, and WMUK, among several others. Read the full story.

9. Strike a balance between usefulness and security.

Though it’s important to consider the potential of the app for multiple functionalities, campus security is critical above all.

According to Dr. Davide Currie, database manager for development and alumni relations at Aberystwyth, the University’s app includes the ability for alumni to make donations to the University’s Annual Fund via PayPal, and often includes alumni contact details and even physical location in the city.

“The biggest development challenge is striking the balance between usability and security,” he noted.

10. Learn from your analytics.

“Analytics are a great way to monitor consumption, learn about your audience’s preferences and optimize your content,” said Paul Stanley, vice president of business development for Mercury Intermedia. “You gain that mobile mindshare that drives the consumption of your information.”

According to Stanley, in Mercury apps, admin can pull the daily unique users, which shows the impact of the app.

“Analytics revealed the heightened access to the [Ole Miss iPhone] app when there was a tornado near campus and a tornado alert was pushed through the notification system. People opened up the app to find more information about that tornado,” he said.

“Also, when Ole Miss became the SEC basketball champions, user consumption increased. Over time, you can use analytics to see what is generating interest in your app. Analytics can also show which sections of the app are most popular and what hours the app is most commonly used.”

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