@AlexHansford worked with me for over a year developing apps for Sony Mobile in the UK as well as for startups. We got pretty good at understanding what worked and what didn’t.

We were having a chat at Monkigras a few months ago around the frustration of doing app development nowadays. At one point, he looked at me and said…

“Apps are like icebergs”

This struck me as a vital thing to understand, but not just for apps, for most startup projects that we’ve ever done (including pure web).

Icebergs, it is often said are 10% above and 90% below water. You don’t see the 90%., but it’s the 90% that sinks you.

What is the App 10%?

Simple. It’s the User Interface. It’s the bit that people “look” at. This is also the bit that most people see.

It’s the “visuals”. When developing an app or similar, you can often woo the owner of the idea with a “mockup” in photoshop or similar. In fact, in most agencies, the mockup is the acceptance test. “This looks like the picture you showed me” is how most owners test the idea.

This is insanity, because for many years I’ve seen (from the outside) many projects developed badly but with a beautiful visual. It’s fine if the project lasts a few weeks/months, but if you’re trying to build a business, the scale of the false economy is astounding.

It’s just not that simple

You only really need a designer if you’re going to go down that route. You can probably even find an outsourced team to put the “paper and string” solution behind it.

Not to mention that if you let the designer at it first, and then let the owner see the design, you’ve basically screwed up your project by ignoring the 90% in terms of acceptance.

“But design is everything isn’t it?”

Well, let’s take a step back here. I’ve heard this so many times with apps from clients and others. Design is important, but what design do you mean?

The problem is in the word “design”. Mockups are not the same as design. UX is not the same as design. With apps, there is design and creativity in all aspects of the solution: management (!), technology stack, code, interface development, branding, pretty pictures.

Design is not just the “what it looks like”. It’s the design across all creative aspects of a project.

Developing technology is just as creative

Those of us who are developers are much maligned within certain circles (a large number of marketing agencies are a case in point). It is often expected that the developers just “follow on” in the process after the “creatives” have had their say, and that developers should just shut up and code the solution that’s been sold.

But that does a massive disservice to the developer. Nowadays a developer of any kind of app based solution will need to have an understanding of things like UX, design/branding, and many other things, as well as understanding how to develop the solution as required. In fact, this is the 90%, and it’s far more important than the 10% at the top. Get the 10% wrong and you’ve got it wrong. The 90% is just as important.

Developing Apps can be very complicated

If you’re asking for an “off the shelf” project, then there the project is simple. The App should be straight forward, and creating a design/theme can be simple. This isn’t what we’re talking about.

If you come with a startup idea, chances are your app is bespoke, with all the issues that come with it. Not to mention you’ll need to think about maintaining it. Bespoke apps are where the 90% rule matters much more.

As a helpful rule of thumb, work out how much it costs to get the design bit done (the bit you look at — photoshop/mockups) then multiply it by 10x and you probably are closer to a realistic outlook on the cost implications than you are at present.

Apps are like icebergs. If you focus on the 10% being everything, the strong likelihood is that the 90% will sink you.

Written by

ServerlessDays CoFounder (Jeff), ex AWS Serverless Snr DA, experienced CTO/Interim, Startups, Entrepreneur, Techie, Geek and Christian

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