Award-Winning App Designer: How to Create and Market a Successful App

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Award-Winning App Designer: How to Create and Market a Successful App
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Jeremy Olson's new app Languages which will be released Thursday Oct. 25 2012

You have a unique idea for a highly marketable iPhone app. And contrary to popular belief, you do not need mounds of start-up cash and a lifetime of experience to make your ideas a reality. App developers like Jeremy Olson are proof of that.

The software and information systems major developed the award-winning app Grades with his company Tapity, Inc. The app debuted as the number one education app in the Apple store and has since been praised for the simplicity of its user-friendly interface.

His new app called "Languages" will be released this Thursday Oct. 25. And his projects like Languages have already garnered attention from big media outlets such as New York Times, ABC News and Huffington Post.

Still, he describes his highest honor as receiving an Apple Design Award for his app, Grades 2 the follow-up to Grades. Out of the half a million apps on the Apple market, Grades 2 was chosen as an example of exceptional design. And he did it all as a full-time student at UNC Charlotte.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Olson where he creates and designs his apps to talk about networking with Apple associates, responding to user feedback, and marketing his app to the right audience.

Building a relationship with Apple representatives was key to the success of Grades, Grades 2 and Cleaning Mona Lisa. How did you manage to get their attention?

I think it starts with building really polished, well-designed stuff. If you're building mediocre products, you can forget about getting featured by Apple. Don't even try. But Apple respects great design.

So that is the base but to get Apple to notice you, you need to first become known in the Apple community. So get to know successful developers, tech writers, and possibly even Apple employees through avenues like Twitter and blogging. Go to conferences like the World Wide Developers conference where developers and Apple employees gather and geek out.

Don't spam. Be useful in the community by writing about the things you are learning. If you write and build great stuff and actively network at conferences, it's only a matter of time until you'll start to know influential people.

Christian Billings laid out much of the app's design. What qualities do you try to have him incorporate into an app's appearance?

Christain's primary job was creating an amazing icon. He started by designing a really awesome, realistic, and detailed icon. Unfortunately, though realism and detail look awesome at large sizes, it isn't very recognizable as a small icon on your phone.

So Christain instead ended up going with a much simpler and much more iconic design that will be instantly recognizable in the App Store and on your home screen.

As to the general app aesthetic, the UI draws inspiration from the real world. We really wanted people to feel like they had physical translation dictionaries in their pocket that they could pull out at any time. So we overlaid a minimal UI with a rich aesthetic, hoping that users would get lost in our little metaphor.

What is the biggest mistake that you feel new app developers make?

Too many new developers are in such a rush to get something "out there" that they never take the time to learn the principles of building successful apps. I could have released my first app in half the time that I did but I chose to learn from the people who were successful on the App Store and at least try to apply the principles I learned.

That gave me a great foundation for the future. It takes practice to apply the principles of success but if you never learn the principles behind great design and marketing, you'll never even try to apply them and will never get the practice you need to be successful.

As a young app developer, how important is income in the early stages of your career?

For me, personally, income from app sales was always a bonus because I was working a well-paying part-time app job as well. Never depend on app sales early on in your career. Making money on the App Store takes time and is hard to predict.

I would suggest doing your own apps in addition to paying work. The app business is huge so it shouldn't be difficult to have a really well-paying job to fund your hobby.

You also maintain a blog (tapity.com). What purpose does your blog play in your business?

The blog was huge for my business. Writing about issues forces you to form solid opinions about them so it motivated me to really think through principles of success. It also gave me the opportunity to eventually become somewhat influential in the industry. Without a blog, you don't have much of a voice in the community. But establishing a respected voice can put you in a position to meet and discuss ideas with the most influential people in the industry. Then it's a snowball affect. All kinds of opportunities open up after that.

Your new app Languages going to be released soon to a lot of anticipation. What went into making it and what lessons did you learn from creating previous apps did you apply to Languages?

We spent over a year building Languages. Probably thousands of hours. A few things we learned from our experience an applied to Languages:

If you are selling your app for a low price, make sure it's an app that almost anyone would want. My first app, Grades, has done very well but its success has been limited because it really only appeals to a small niche: college students who care a lot about their grades. Languages is a much more universal app. Our partner, Sonico, has created other translation apps that have been downloaded tens of millions of times.

Make your app easy to use but go the extra mile to also make it fun. Focus on the little details that delight users.

Take the time to polish the app. It shows.

Don't wait until your app is released to market it. I am constantly doing "marketing" by making friends in the industry. This way, before the app is even launched, I have over a dozen big websites that want to write about it.

You were offered the opportunity to work for Apple in helping them develop the new Maps app. Fortunately, you declined. What went into your decision in turning them down?

Working for Apple has been a dream of mine ever since I was a wee lad. When the opportunity came, though, I realized that it just wasn't for me. Yes, I would be designing apps that would be used by hundreds of millions of people but, the problem is, those people would be using my apps because they are the default, not because they are the best or because I had done such a good job marketing them. I realized that I was an entrepreneur to the core.

How much cooler is it to have millions of people using your app because you built something great and marketed it brilliantly yourself? That's one of the main reasons I knew I had to have my own company.

Many app developers struggle to receive and respond to app users' feedback. How do you communicate with our market audience?

Before releasing the app we try to get as much feedback as possible from potential users. Throughout the design and development process we are always letting users try to use our prototypes so we can get feedback. This is super valuable.

Once the app is released, we try to make it as easy as possible for customers to email us and I respond to each email personally. I get quite a few emails so it takes time but it is good to hear and respond to customers' problems and compliments personally.

After you release an app, what are the next steps you take to further connect consumers to your products?

Updates are important. Customers appreciate that you take their feedback into account. We also connect with customers on Facebook, Twitter, and email.

You can find Jeremy Olson's app Languages this Thursday in the Apple app store. To stay updated with the current events of Tapity, Inc., follow Olson's blog.
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