Ask the Experts: App Assessment

I am working on an app that I hope to turn into a company someday. My question is: how can I set my app apart? Without revealing my idea, I will say that there are similar apps on the market, but none quite like mine. I understand programming, but I am not sure how to make my app appealing to users or market it properly.

 

You are quite right to notice that coding alone is not the secret to a successful tech company. Tech innovation is not all about error logs and java profilers: it is also about things that are harder to measure or catalog, like the user’s experience and the marketing team’s slogan.

 

The most important thing to an app, besides its core concept, is its design. Design is what makes apps and other tech products easy to use. Unfortunately, it is not something that all tech professionals understand fully. Though the Mac and PC debate has cooled somewhat as more and more computer engineers warm up to Apple’s impressive hardware and UNIX-like command line, it is useful to look back at Apple’s iPod- and MacBook-fueled comeback for an example. Many in the tech world were astounded by Apple’s ability to get customers to pay so much for their hardware. But it was Apple’s sleek design sense and superb user interfaces that offered the value add that drove Apple’s rise from a company worth a few billion dollars in the late 90s to one that is worth $615 billion today.

 

While good design can be hard to quantify, its results can be measured. When ESPN redesigned its homepage, its profits jumped 35%. That is a very good indicator that your future company’s financial well-being rests, in part, on design. ESPN’s actually offerings did not change, but changes to presentation and user experience meant real improvements in terms of dollars and cents.

 

And while some design decisions may seem rather subjective, some specific design tactics have objective benefits for the companies that make them. For instance, infinite scrolling has been proven to reduce a website’s “bounce rate” (the bounce rate measures the number of users who quickly leave the page after it loads). Time cut its website’s bounce rate by 15% simply by adding infinite scrolling.

 

Design decisions are particularly important for a new company like yours, because design is largely responsible for first impressions. Some studies give design as much as 94% of the credit for first impressions among users, which means that – at first – your design could matter even more than your app’s usefulness!

 

Design is about making your app more functional, but also more appealing. Similarly, marketing and advertising have a lot to do with how your app is perceived. Here, again, Apple makes an excellent example. Apple’s design lent it a hip and aspirational quality that led many young people to purchase its laptops – even though many of them did not have any particular reason for opting for such high-priced hardware.

 

Marketing is changing, but it has remained vital. Studies tell us that millennials are 247% more likely to be influenced by blogs or social media sites, which means that smart marketing for modern apps needs to focus on these areas.

 

In short, your app needs to do more than just solve a problem. It needs to solve it elegantly and easily by creating an appealing and simple user experience. It needs great design and smart marketing.

 

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

 

Written by Martin J. Young, former correspondent of Asia Times.


 

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.

Ask the Experts: Economic Adaption

Q: As a student studying Computer Science, I’m worried that the growing tech bubble coupled with increasing outsourcing will make it difficult for me to find the job I want after graduation. What can I do to protect myself and get a leg up on the competition?

 

A: Outsourcing is a certainly a growing concern for many Americans, who see the increasingly competitive and interconnected global economy as a source of danger for typical workers. Only about half of all Americans – 52%, to be exact – favor free trade agreements, and support for free trade tends to drop during election years. On the subject of outsourcing, specifically, the numbers are even clearer: 86% of Americans believe that companies shift jobs to countries “where wages are lower.”

 

It should be noted, however, that not all outsourcing takes jobs out of the country. Small businesses outsource many of the day-to-day tasks that larger corporations use their own workforce for. These tasks can include everything from janitorial services to enterprise mobility services and product lifecycle management. In this case, outsourcing allows small businesses to run smoothly without having to do things like hire an entire IT department to manage just one network. This sort of outsourcing does not ship jobs overseas.

 

But how many jobs do go overseas? Plenty: outsourcing to China alone has cost the U.S. 3.2 million jobs since 2001. That’s a steep price to pay, though pro-trade advocates argue that the economic costs of isolationism can be worse.

 

Though the net economic costs are up for debate, the reality for low-wage workers is clear. Certain types of jobs are at risk of being outsourced, and are not being replaced by the same types of jobs. This is why experts say low-wage workers need to adapt to our changing economy.

 

That means investing in training and developing skills that will be useful in the sorts of jobs that are not being outsourced at a high rate. This could mean going back to school – something that is tough for full-time workers to do. But here, too, there are solutions. It’s now possible to get degrees as different as creative writing MFAs and HR MBAs online. Attending school online is a popular option at a time when many of us are too busy to pursue full-time or on-campus educations. The number of online students reached 5.8 million in 2014, and that number is rising. Online degrees have also seen a boost in prestige as traditional schools move onto the web and supplant for-profit colleges, which have a questionable collective reputation.

 

While critics note that not all low-wage workers are in a position to invest in training and education, the unfortunate truth is that the benefits of our interconnected global economy for a developed country like the United States are not focused on lower-wage jobs. Workers who fear outsourcing would be well advised to invest in training and try to move into jobs that require skilled labor, as these positions are less affected by outsourcing and put workers in a position to enjoy the benefits that economists say come with international trade.

 

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

 

Written by John Regan, former Director of Sales, for equity research.


 

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.

Ask the Experts: Eureka Moment

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.


Q: I am not having luck creating a new internet business. How do I search for a new idea?

A: Many innovators start out searching for a grand idea, but    discover that is not the typical or best path to creativity. There are already many ideas for new websites floating in digital space, some of the best ones are just adapted from existing technology and improved.

Quite often the best way to innovate is to borrow another idea and apply it to your own business. You do not have to reinvent the wheel, something already may be in use in another industry or another country. An actual eureka moment is a theatrical concept, while the act of improving is a long hard trek. Capitalizing on that improvement is even harder.

The web is replete with examples of how people have revised another idea and made it a success. Apple for example did not invent the personal computer, they took the idea from the Xerox Alto and made the Macintosh.

Innovation is not a single event, but more of a process involving the discovery of a vision, the manufacturing of a solution then the transformation of an industry. It is hardly ever achieved by one person alone. It is also rarely from one field of expertise but a combination from across many.

Some examples of innovative technologies have been modeled on biological designs and nature. Biomimicry lead Alexander Graham Bell to copy the inner workings of the human ear when he created the telephone. The hypodermic needle was also developed by studying nature, mosquitoes to be exact and their ability to inject you without you feeling it.

A little creative thought goes a long way, as people are always trying to figure out better ways of doing things. Asking the right questions and defining an approach to a problem or situation can lead to innovative ways of solving it. While people usually think of Tesla, Uber, and Airbnb as examples of innovative companies, there are other established companies such as IBM that have stayed at the top of their game for years. They can see past short-term, hot trends and invest for the long term, developing for generations.

With the advances in cloud technology and Internet of Things devices, there will be no end of areas that can be improved. However, the requirements for innovation today are completely different to those of the past generation. A number of start-ups have failed for not being able to keep pace with market changes and established players.

Collaboration is becoming a competitive advantage as problems today are far more complex. Our exposure to a limitless volume of information today is also conducive to innovation. A student with a smartphone has access to more data now than a highly trained scientist had a decade ago.

Taking a broader view of innovation and realizing that you do not have to invent something new will go a long way towards actually achieving it.

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old… Peter F. Drucker.

Written by John Regan, former Director of Sales, for equity research.

Ask the Experts: So Tell Me About Yourself

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.

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Q: I am likely to get a job offer, but the company wants me to take a personality test. Should I and is it legal?

A: Your question is timely because more and more companies are now using personality tests in their selection processes. You are not alone in being asked to take the test and, more importantly, many people do not want to take them. Employers have their reasons for testing, but you also have privacy rights, so we will look at your legal obligations and why personality tests are used.

There are a number of responses you could consider when faced with a personality test. You have questions such as what does the test measure, how was it developed, who will be analysing the results, how will those results be used, and why are they using a test in the first place. Whether or not you ask any of these, remember others applying for the same job will readily take the test.

Personality tests in theory can divide people into several different personality types, sixteen crops up frequently. They can be used as part of induction training or at company team building events. Employers like to know who is working for them but whether there is any science behind personality tests is debatable.

The test does not have to be taken if it violates your personal privacy by asking questions of a religious or sexual nature. If questions are very intrusive the test may be deemed illegal, but as with anything involving the law, it is a grey area varying from state to state. Personality tests cannot be used to discriminate against any group, gender or ethnicity. Companies are not allowed to use them to determine whether women, for example, fall into certain personality types. Anti-discrimination laws do protect against this type of testing so depending on the questions you may be legally exempt from taking the test.

Having concerns about testing is natural, your company is expecting this, but be aware that they are also monitoring your reaction. If you come across as overly sensitive or paranoid, it will be noted by your bosses as they wonder why. Finding a middle ground is the best way to approach the situation.

There is nothing wrong with asking questions about the tests and the questions in it, but do so professionally. Try to learn why they are being used for a particular job, you may get some reassuring responses. You may quickly discover that this company is not right for you, and it is easier to move on. Asking about the test should give you some insight to the culture of the company. Only then will you know whether taking the personality test is the right thing to do.

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it… Bruce Lee.

 

Written by Suzanne Hite, former publications editor serving the technology services sector.