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Picking an idea for an app

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The design industry is made up of a talented bunch - designers, developers and super-smart creative types who have the skills and desire to create useful products that make people's lives easier.

Chances are, you're one of those people.

I've read a few articles recently about designers choosing which ideas to focus on, with varying degrees of success —€“ and there's no denying that it's an important, but tough decision. So where do you start when picking an app to build, a startup to create, or a commercial venture to earn you some play money? I see quite a few people jumping on the first idea that springs to mind, for the sake of being a founder/entrepreneur/start-up — but my advice would be to dig a bit deeper before jumping straight in.

Now I'm no Elon Musk — but I've run a few successful businesses (including Prevue) and had a few products rise and fail along the way too. Whilst I can't give you all the answers to making a successful product, I wanted to share some thoughts on the decision making process behind the conception of an idea that's proven worthwhile for me as a designer, not a businessman.

Choose something you're passionate about

Products, startups, businesses (whatever you want to call them) take a lot of effort —€“ even the ones that are just hobby projects are likely to hit some rocky points along the way. The annual hosting bill, the sudden downtime or a snarky email from someone who 'hates' your product are all things that'll make you question your motives. When profit or success is a key motivation, those rocky points are going to take a significant toll on you personally. However, if your product revolves around a personal passion - sticking with it is certainly less of a struggle… your love and personal investment in your idea will be enough motivation to carry you through the days where profit and success seem far off.

Scratch an itch

Equally as important as passion is the core reason behind your product —€“ the adage "Create the things you wish existed" springs to mind; are you answering a question nobody has solved before, or are you vying to be just another player in an existing market?

Whilst there's no harm in the latter, it's far more rewarding to solve problems that have gone un-solved. Not only that, but you can focus your energy and passion on innovation and experimentation rather than what your competitors are doing.

Define your own idea of success

At what point will your product be successful? If it's your first 10,000 users, first round of investment or successful buy-out… your road to success might be extremely long. Whilst those might be admirable goals, setting smaller and more achievable milestones that can be achieved in the shorter term is a perfect way to define your success. Those small wins will also help maintain your enthusiasm along the way.

As an example, my idea of success for Prevue is to see a designer win a pitch, presented through the app —€“ or to facilitate a really meaningful conversation between creatives, around a design. These are my guard-rails for success, and keep my ambition grounded on what matters… I'd far rather have 100 people that couldn't live without Prevue, than 100,000 who could take it or leave it.

Be (and know) your audience

The most successful products I've had the privilege of experiencing first-hand have been created by people looking to make something for themselves:

The Loop was born when Pip and Matt had trouble finding decent talent at MTV — Campaign Monitor was built by Ben and Dave, who owned an agency frustrated by the intricacies of coding and sending email — and I built Prevue because nothing else existed for me as a freelance designer to share concepts with clients.

So it's a familiar story, and not one exclusive to the web industry. The reason it's so useful being your own audience is that you truly understand your customers - you understand their pain, and you know how to solve their problems. It's important not to assume you know everything about your customers, but if you can build something that solves your own frustrations —€“ you'll be onto a winner.

Impossible isn't something that can't be done. It's just something that hasn't been done before.

Finally, respect your competition

One of the most important lessons I've learned in building a product is to respect my competitors. It's inevitable that if you have a good idea - it's only a matter of time before someone else puts their own spin on it and creates a similar venture. The typical response to competition, especially in the web industry, is often contempt. To label your rivals' products as rubbish, blatantly market yourself as the superior alternative, or go head-to-head with your competition is an extremely risky move. Instead, if you respect your peers and focus on what makes your product unique — you'll have a much easier time creating something great, rather than entering into an arms race.

Ultimately the best advice I can give is to begin with a personal interest and a genuine desire to solve problems — the fame and fortune will come once you have that foundation. And whilst success isn't guaranteed, if you build something for the right reasons, any time spent on your idea will be worthwhile.

Or, as Huge put it..

Picking an idea is like picking a spouse: trust your instincts, focus on your own needs and don't do it drunk.

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