How to Design an App in 7 Steps

Updated Jan. 12, 2022 Published Jun. 11, 2021 9 Min. Read

The average person spends more than three hours per day on their mobile device. What’s more, 88% of that time is spent within mobile apps. With no less than a few million mobile apps available today — for work, leisure, education, first aid, cooking, fitness, shopping, and more — it’s no wonder that our smartphones have become like windows to the world.

But how does one actually come up with an app? The good news is that if you’ve ever thought, “Hey, there should be an app for that!,” you’re already on your way. There’s always room on the internet for your next big idea, and an idea is all you need to begin.

We’re here to break this tricky process down in seven simple steps. Spoiler alert: It takes plenty of creative juices!

TL;DR, or perhaps if you’re more of a visual learner (hey, we get that!): You can always watch our video on how to design an app on YouTube instead. ⬇️


1. Start With a Sketch

The best part about creating an app is that you can begin today, absolutely free. That’s because, like many other creative projects, the app-building process starts with a rough sketch.

Whether you have a pen and paper or an iPad and Apple Pencil, you need to get that great idea out of your head and into the real world. Start with the simplest, cleanest workflow you can imagine. You want the most minimal product possible that’s easy to explain and easy to use.

Don’t start off by throwing in every feature you can think of. But don’t ignore “crazy” ideas that pop up if you’re really in love with them — sometimes, it’s an app’s bells and whistles that will become your unique selling point in the future.

2. Do Market Research

Just like with any product or service, you should never skip market research. Who is your end user and what do they usually look for in a particular product? How techy (or non-techy) are they, and how will this affect their downloading and app usage habits? How will your target audience’s life be improved by your app?

Check out your competition and their app reviews. Then try downloading and using apps that are similar to the one you want to create. What did they get right? What did they miss out on?

With millions of apps out there, there will be ones that are similar to yours. But you can still create something unique — and even something better. Studying similar products will help you get to where you want to be, faster.

Don’t forget to think about pricing. Will you charge for your app at all, and if so, how? Will you monetize your app through ads, one-time payments, subscription plans, or in-app purchases? How much is your target market willing to pay?

Find out about other developers’ creative processes. Read blogs or watch stories about how other people built their apps and learn from their mistakes.

Finally, don’t let this step fill you with too much anxiety. No matter how awesome your app is and how beautiful your initial UI is, there’s no such thing as a perfect app. Devices change and user experience evolves. Even the most popular apps in the world constantly release updates and bug fixes. In short, you’ll always be going back to the drawing board.

3. Create an App Mockup

Mockups, or wireframes, are rough sketches of your app’s UI or user interface. There are plenty of mockup creation software options out there — also called wireframe tools — from free to premium.

It’s easy to learn to use a wireframing tool yourself, but you can also partner with a UI (user interface) or UX (user experience) designer to help turn your rough sketches into an interactive mockup.

You can immerse yourself in this process by learning more about basic UI elements.

  1. Input controls like buttons, checkboxes, and drop-down menus allow users to provide information to the app.
  2. Navigational components like search bars, breadcrumbs, paginations, and sliders guide users around an app.
  3. Informational components like notification icons, progress bars, and modal windows (aka pop-ups) give users valuable information.
  4. Containers are the basic building blocks of an app. They contain related content and elements, dividing whole “pages” into easily viewable and digestible parts.

A mockup influences, but doesn’t reflect, the final design of your app. It’s less about what the final app looks like and more about how the app works. It’s a blueprint. You can show your mockup to friends, family, colleagues, or future investors.

4. Dial in Graphic Design

It’s time to make things pretty by dialing in the graphic design. Just like when creating a mockup or wireframe, you can work on the design yourself or choose to enlist the help of a professional designer. Of course, professional help is recommended. A polished app design helps build trustworthiness with potential users, thereby increasing the likelihood of downloads.

There are app templates available online that range from free to premium. When you just want to get a wonderful idea out there, don’t be afraid of starting with a template because it can be even more daunting to start from scratch. An app with a templated design may look a little too basic at first, but it’s a good place to start, especially as most templates already have many of the essential UI elements in place. Also, when it comes to app usage, familiarity can be more important to users than originality.

The sky is not the limit here — while your creativity can run free, remember that you’re always bound by one ultimate metric: user-friendliness. Keep UX-related best practices in mind.

  • Eliminate suspense with informative pop-ups and progress bars.
  • Keep the design consistent throughout the app.
  • Require only one action at a time while keeping the interface clean and simple. Asking multiple questions or presenting multiple next steps can confuse users.

Of course, the app design is not yet the real deal. Your goal is to have an organized set of design files that the app developer can use as a reference when they actually start building your app.

5. Start Marketing

Your app may not be built yet, but it’s designed and marketable! So it’s time to revisit Step 2 and put your marketer hat back on. How will people find out about your app? How will they learn what it does and how it will change their lives?

Here are a few ways to start getting your app out there:

Create a landing page. Your app may live, and be searchable, in the App Store or Google Play Store, but the way you can present features there is limited. With a professionally hosted landing page, you can showcase your app’s potential to investors and other interested people.

Crowdfund your project. Not only will crowdfunding, well, fund your app — it’s also a great way to test the waters and find out the market’s level of interest. During the crowdfunding process, you can interact with contributors and the general public and discover more about what they’re looking for in an app like yours. You can use crowdfunding platforms like AppStori, Indiegogo, AppBackr, and Kickstarter.

Offer early access, beta-testing, and other perks for investors. These special offers can stand alone or go hand in hand with crowdfunding. Apart from generating interest and revenue, these teasers can also help build your community before your app is launched.

Tell your story. An optional, but effective, way to market is to talk about your own creative journey. What is your background? What pushed you to create this app? By telling your story, you are creating relevant content that you can showcase on your landing page or social media accounts.

Don’t forget to pepper your marketing efforts with clear calls to action (CTAs) like “Download the app” or “Sign up for updates.”

6. Build Your App

Let’s get coding! (Or, rather, hire professional mobile app developers to do the coding.)

When we talk about app development, we traditionally break things down into two main categories: front-end and back-end development.

Front-end development focuses on what the end user sees and interacts with. It’s composed of the visual, client-facing functionalities of the app. The front end is, literally, a program’s face. For users of the app, it’s all they’ll ever know or see.

Back-end development is the backbone of an app. The back end is where your databases are stored and where administrators log in to make updates. It’s like The Matrix — the “real” things are happening somewhere the users can’t see. In other words, the back end is where all the functional stuff goes on to keep your app running.

The front end and back end combined — that’s how you develop an app.

7. Launch Your App

Once your app is built and usable, you can upload and publish it via the App Store or Google Play Store.

Craft your store listing carefully. The requirements can vary depending on which platform you’re uploading to. Parts of a listing include the title, description, contact details, screenshots, teaser videos, and other infographics.

It’s also time to begin your launch-related marketing efforts! Anticipate and prepare answers to frequently asked questions.

Don’t let your ego get in the way and arm yourself to read some bad reviews because they are bound to happen. It’s a glitchy world, and the important thing is that you’re able to fix the most important bugs at a reasonable pace. Users will appreciate it when their constructive feedback is actually heard.

Sales, marketing, and after-sales support are endless processes. It helps to keep up a sensible, friendly online presence and keep an eye on analytics. With the help of data, you will be able to maintain a truly useful app.

Building an App is a Team Effort. We’re Here to Help.

If that sounds like a lot, well, it is. That’s why we recommend professional help for most of the steps above. When it comes to the all-important visuals, Design Pickle is here to make your app development journey a little easier.

We can design landing pages, presentation decks for pitching your app to investors, infographics, and social media posts so that you can better market your app. We can even help with branding and UI elements.

App development is complex, but not impossible. The most successful apps are those that succeed in answering the question of why they exist — one idea, one mission, one value proposition. If inspiration strikes, know that help is out there, waiting for you to change the world.

Be sure to check out our solutions for entrepreneurs to see how having professional designers in your corner can propel your business and creative ventures forward!

Related Posts



Hosted by Russ Perry, CEO & Founder of Design Pickle, Jar of Genius is a podcast that uncovers the strategies and mindsets of today’s most innovative creative leaders. Get actionable insights on groundbreaking business models, successful campaigns, and the cutting-edge tech that’s changing the game. Learn how to build a thriving creative business in this fast-paced world.

Simplify the way your design work gets done.

We’re an all-in-one platform with a built-in global design workforce, trailblazing the path to easier, faster, and more efficient creative.