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How to make an app:
A 5-step process for anyone with a great idea

Whether you’re a novice with a viable idea but no coding skills or a professional developer, the first steps to create an app that solves a business problem are the same. And they all hinge on planning, saving you time and expense down the road when you build an app. Begin to bring form to your vision with these five steps.

Step 1. Set your goals

Get clear on the purpose of your app. Define your business objective, such as increased productivity or reduced expenses.

Questions to consider:

  • What do you want to accomplish? What problem does your app solve? Consider the primary thing your app will do well.
  • Do you want to make a native app for a specific platform or mobile device? A hybrid app that works on different platforms?
  • If you’re making an app for the web, will you want to use responsive design to make sure the layout, fonts, and graphics look right on different devices?
  • What type of data will your app generate? How does it need to be visualized? What will your audience do with that data?
  • What is your data source, such as Common Data Service and SQL? Will you need to connect to multiple data sources?

Tip:

Find out about any policies you could encounter later, when your app is ready to go. For example, does your company have security, privacy, or compliance requirements? How about government regulations or authentication/authorization requirements?

Step 2. Sketch features and functions

Determine how it works and what you and your users will need to be able to do. Make a list of all the functions and features you envision. Map out use cases and see how your idea looks on a sketch pad.

What features make your app unique? What can you leave out? What would slow you down when you later build the app? Keep the first version simple and include only what matters most. That will speed up your process and make it easier to identify changes you need to make.

Tip:

If your app may have to operate offline, make sure you plan enough features that work without an internet connection. You may also need additional data saving and loading capabilities for your app to function offline.

Step 3. Research existing apps

See what’s already out there that helps accomplish similar goals or solve similar problems. Then think about how you might improve or build on those apps to address your business processes.

What to discover:

  1. The specific needs of your business.
  • Talk to people you work with—find out how they’re currently solving or struggling with a problem your app could help solve for them.
  1. Has someone already created the app you need?
  • Read the reviews of available apps—what did people like or not like? What have those apps missed or done well?
  • Go back to your pen and paper sketch and make your app better.
  1. Is your app feasible? Look into copyright restrictions and possible technical holdups.
  2. Do you need to consider accessibility and localization?

Step 4. Create wireframe mockups

A mockup is a storyboard of your app’s layout, functionality, and the flow between the screens. Your mockup helps you and others see your intended result and flag any issues before you start building. Pen and paper works or use a digital mockup tool or template. Create a design that’s simple and easy to navigate.

Mockup an intuitive user experience (UX).

User experience is the flow and function of your app—the way that users interact with it. What happens when a user taps on a button? How do you move them from one screen to another? How many screens will you need for users to reach each goal? What order should they be in? Create one wireframe mockup of the full screen for each task.

Mockup a visually appealing user interface (UI).

Visualize how each screen will look, and how your functions fit in. Think about typography, colors, icons, and tabs for a consistent look and feel. Try different layouts and sizes of each visual element. Draw rough diagrams or “skins” of each screen.

Tip:

Give some thought to other custom design elements you might like to include, such as pop-up action confirmations or hide/show buttons based on user/access permissions.

Step 5. Test and refine your wireframes

Now it’s time to test your wireframe in real time. This helps you see any places where the user journey may not flow easily.

Make your wireframe interactive.

  • Connect screens and link actions that simulate the experience of your app.

Get testers and ask them questions.

  • When you enter the app is it easy to get to the main menu?
  • Can you easily identify all the task options?
  • Where is the experience easy and intuitive?
  • Where do you get stuck?
  • Did you have to backtrack to previous screens because the path forward wasn’t clear?
  • Did you need a step that wasn’t there or that you couldn’t find?
  • Any repetition and redundancy in the app experience?

Tip:

Wait until your wireframe tests tell you that the experience is friction-free before you begin technical app development.

Sort your feedback, make your revisions list, fix what you need to, then test your wireframes again to see if it works better. Repeat that process until your app flows with ease.

Take your next steps

Once your planning is done, you’re ready to move on to the building stage. That starts with choosing your tools. Code it yourself—or build an app quickly with a low-code tool such as Microsoft Power Apps, which provides drag-and-drop design and pre-built AI components.