Double helix stairs
Photo by Alf Melin

A new enterprise client of ours had prior experience with having their apps developed and they asked:

Despite all the money that we’ve spent on designers and developers, why is it that our mobile app never turn out as polished and user friendly as apps like Dropbox, Pinterest, or Instagram?

The answer is:

Iterations, many many iterations

Startups who built Dropbox, Pinterest, and Instagram have gone through many iterations and release cycles. In every iteration, the usability has been improved based on real data and observing how the users interact with the app. Good usability cannot always be designed in advance. Also at the beginning of a project it is impossible to tell how many iterations and refinements it takes for an app to reach desirable results.

Clients expect their app turn out to be perfect by design after the first release. Problem is that good design and usability is achieved through editing and constant refinements. Your app isn’t as polished because it hasn’t go through enough development cycles yet. In fact the app has hardly ever been used by real users until the contract between you and your development shop is officially over.

So why aren’t iterations part of the process when you hire a development agency?

Every iteration costs money and clients don’t like that

Over the last decade that we have been in business, we haven’t had a single client who has been comfortable with the idea of paying for iterations and refinements.

Generally iterations are never mentioned in the initial price quotes. App development shops consider 1 to 3 iterations in their initial quote and add a fine print that basically states that the client will be billed for the additional revisions to the app. Clients tend to select the company that offers the most service for the lowest possible fee. No company wants to lose that bid and that’s why they do not include the iterations cost. Instead they deliver an app that meets the mutually agreed on specifications within the clients budget.

A startup app goes through many iterations

A startup company is by definition solving problems under extreme uncertainty. It is after gaining growth and traction. It invests a healthy portion of its resources on as many iterations as the founders can afford, because that is the only way for them to build a product that everybody wants to use. A startup affords iterations by maximizing its resources:

Let’s say you have a 30K budget for your app. That’s right an app can easily cost more than a car.

That budget could buy you about 20 to 30 development days with an app development company in Vancouver.

An entrepreneur can invest half of that budget on a developer at $40 per hour and get about 50 development days.

A hackerpreneur (entrepreneur with app development skills) can live a simple life for a year and spend about 240 days on building and refining their app.

Some startups raise Angel funds and they are backed by investors. Their starting budget could be anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000. They focus full time on user research, development, and as many iterations as they can afford.

Your mobile app can become just as awesome

If you are hiring an app development agency, consider the cost of iterations in your project. Understand that it is highly unlikely that you get everything right in the first release of your app. If you’ve received a quote that doesn’t include subsequent development cycles, talk to the vendor and let them know that you are considering to refine the app’s usability through multiple iterations.

Another option is that you hire full-time developers in your team so you get yourself more development time and follow lean and agile software development methodologies to improve the quality of your app. In this scenario you will be taking charge of product design, user research, and project management. Of course you need to have experience in managing a team and be a good product designer yourself.