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Where To Find Inspiration As An App Designer

If you grew up in the 1970s, 80s, or early 90s, you no doubt remember the running cultural idea about helpful “So you’ve decided to …” brochures.

“So you’ve decided to join the ministry.”

“So you’ve decided to get married.”

“So you’ve decided to spay or neuter your pet.”

Perhaps the best was the Simpson’s episode where Homer was undecided about bribing the cable guy to give him an illegal hookup, and the cable guy gave Homer a brochure: “So you’ve decided to steal cable.”

As a beginning app inventor without direction, you may feel a little like Homer Simpson on the cusp of a big decision, worried about the possible risks, and wondering, now that you’ve decided on it, if maybe it was the right decision after all. Relax, we’ve got your back.

So you’ve decided to become an app designer … (but you don’t know where to start)

The biggest problem you might be facing is this: though you came to app design because you saw it as a potentially lucrative opportunity, maybe you aren’t quite sure where and how to get ideas for apps. If you’re like a lot of people, this might even be giving you second thoughts.

Don’t panic. It turns out, creativity is not something you’re born with, or something some people have and others don’t. It’s a skill, and like most skills, it can be learned, or enhanced through practice. There are many books on the subject, from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life to Michael Gelb’s Creativity On Demand: How to Ignite and Sustain the Fire of Genius to many, many others.

While we definitely recommend you read up on creativity, there are some things you can start doing right now to kick your brain into app-designing gear immediately. Below are three paths that will get you moving.

1. Start with things you know

How often in the course of your work day do you pull out your smartphone and open an app to help you with a task? Maybe it’s a calculator, or a figure converter, or a notepad, or the camera — whatever. Maybe you sit at a desk, and use your web browser to do these things. The point is, you do a job, and you use tools. Is there something you do by hand, or with a pen and paper, or in your head, that could be done more easily with an app?

Suppose you work as an EMT, and several times a week you go to a call and you discover people doing CPR, but doing it wrong. Maybe their compressions are too fast or too slow. Perhaps they aren’t pausing frequently enough for rescue breathing, or they pause too often.

Guess what? Your challenge is an opportunity for an app: CPR instructions! (And it’s one with a built-in audience, if you could convince the American Heart Association to recommend your app to people who receive its training.) Boom.

With this particular example, if you go to the App store, you’ll see numerous CPR apps, no doubt created by EMTs and CPR students who saw the same need. But somebody was inspired, and some of those apps have hundreds of reviews, meaning lots of people use them.

Is there something about your job, your hobby, or your home life that inspires or frustrates you, that an app might help with? You are making progress!

2. Find an app that doesn’t quite hit the mark and improve it

Let’s think about that CPR app idea again for a minute.

When you first thought of it, you got pretty excited, didn’t you? Around 18 percent of American adults have received CPR training — that’s around 45 million potential customers! But then you looked on the app store and got discouraged by all the options, including some (dagnabbit!) with the American Heart Association brand.

Look again. Above, we found the numbers with hundreds of review encouraging. But is that really true? Hundreds? There are about 700 million iPhones in circulation, and the best CPR apps have a couple hundred reviews? You’ve really got to start to wonder at this point if those apps are any good.

So, a good next step would be to download a few of them and put them through their paces. Since you’re an EMT, you’ve probably got access to a “Resusci-Annie” type training doll, so get it out and practice using the apps. It’s probable that each has some things you like and some things you don’t. One thing missing from several of these real apps is the ability to dial 911 easily and go on speaker, so you can keep delivering CPR while talking to emergency services. Some have great beat timers, but forget to remind you to pause and do the rescue breathing. Some lack a good basic checklist to remind you what to do at all.

By the time you’ve used five or six of them intensely, you probably realize you could make a better one. You are on your way! (And see here for more thoughts on what to do when you realize others have had an idea like yours.)

3. Break stuff

Ok, you don’t literally have to break things, least of all your smartphone. (At this point, our lawyers have instructed us to specifically state that we do not advocate breaking anything, anywhere, ever, especially not expensive electronics, and your continued reading of this post constitutes your agreement to be super-duper careful with stuff.)

Humorous disclaimers aside, what we mean by “break stuff” is more about the mental exercise of thinking about how things can and do go wrong.

When you’re prototyping a physical device, you really do actually break it. With apps, you mostly have to imagine during the design phase what might not work, or what incorrect use someone might put it to.

So think back to number one, and the idea that you start from what you know. Is there an app you use all the time that you wish were better, or that you find yourself mistakenly using incorrectly? You’ve just “broken” it. Now figure out how to fix it.

4. Always be on the lookout for app ideas (and keep a journal)

Ok, so you’re not an EMT and you don’t know much about CPR. But that was just an example. Don’t be so literal — after all, the first step to being more creative is being open to considering even ideas that seem improbable or unlikely at first. So, you’ve decided to become an app designer …

There’s one thing that creative types in just about every field agree on, and that’s the importance of keeping a journal.

We’re not asking you to keep a log of your feelings necessarily (“Dear Diary, Today I read a post about the importance of writing down my feelings. This made me angry!”) — not that there’s anything wrong with that! But the type of journaling we are talking about is a notebook where you can record those flashes of inspiration that come at random, and that always seem to disappear when you walk in the front door.

Get a small notebook you can carry around, maybe one with a pen semi-permanently attached.

We are tempted to suggest you develop a journaling app, but this might be one time when pen and paper are superior. Inspiration often occurs when smartphone use would be inappropriate: driving down the highway, in a boring meeting with your boss, or during the third grade play where your kid plays Pine Tree Number 4.

But whether by pen and paper or voice note app on your phone, the important thing is: record your ideas. However silly, random or bizarre, write them down.

Creative types agree that the act of writing down your creative ideas (even the weird ones) actually causes your brain to create more ideas. Thomas Edison filled more than 3500 journals in his life. He was a compulsive journaler, and he recorded almost everything. You could do worse than imitate the creative strategy of the defining figure of the electrified world.

Flip back through them from time to time as well. Discuss them with friends and family. You never know when you’ll be inspired by your own inspiration.

Want to talk with a professional app developer about your app brainstorming? Contact The Appineers at (877) 534-1301!

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