For Fishermen Labs, 'frequent coordination' is key to user engagement

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App quality may dictate how long end users engage with an app, according to recent data from technology market research firm Forrester Research.

Image: Forrestor

Nicole Dvorak, a data scientist at Forrester, pointed out the average U.S. smartphone owner spends over two hours per day using apps and websites on their device. She also noted that smartphone users commit most of their time to mobile apps, and the average smartphone user spends 88 percent of this time leveraging only five apps.

"For the average U.S. smartphone owner, those (five) apps are Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Gmail and FB Messenger," Dvorak wrote in a blog post. "And although smartphone owners use about 24 unique apps in a given month, the remaining 19 command just a small slice of users' time."

What do these results tell mobile developers? Clearly, delivering engaging apps represents a golden opportunity for mobile developers across the globe.

How a mobile developer connects with end users is paramount, and a developer that coordinates with end users may be better equipped to deliver engaging apps consistently – something that is exceedingly important in a highly competitive mobile developer landscape.

Today, Fishermen Labs, a Los Angeles-based digital product studio, embraces frequent coordination with end users throughout the app development cycle. By doing so, the company has been able to launch apps that engage end users and meet clients' needs simultaneously.

Fishermen Labs and the app development cycle

Fishermen Labs operates as a self-funded company with 25 employees and 15 contractors at its disposal. The business originally started as a consulting firm, but soon noticed a major flaw among many mobile developers in the Los Angeles area.

Eden Chen | Image: Fishermen Labs

"We were working on an app of our own and realized there was a large technical gap in Los Angeles amongst development shops. So we decided to start Fishermen Labs out of that," Fishermen Labs co-founder Eden Chen told FierceDeveloper.

Fishermen Labs continues to serve as a consulting firm and has helped a broad range of clients, including:

  • Nightlife app Discotech
  • Valet parking app CurbsSand
  • Video-selling app Kernl

To launch apps, Fishermen Labs uses an "extremely process-oriented" app development cycle, according to Chen. This cycle typically includes nine steps:

  1. Work with the client to figure out the product they are trying to build
  2. Simplify the feature set and design and prototype the product
  3. Conduct user testing and research
  4. Scope out the development for the minimal viable product (MVP) and simplify where necessary
  5. Start quality assurance (QA) processes at least eight weeks before the final release
  6. Launch the product with a small group of beta users at least four weeks before the final release
  7. Conduct load testing for expected audience size
  8. Release the product
  9. Iterate the product based on end user feedback

Chen also pointed out many challenges may arise during the app development cycle, but the Fishermen Labs team remains flexible and is ready to make changes to an app as needed.

"The biggest challenge that we encounter is typically balancing budget and timing priorities with putting something that is fully featured enough to justify a launch," Chen noted. "Our priority is to get a minimum viable product out, because without user testing and feedback, it's difficult to answer the client's original hypotheses. Oftentimes, the initial hypothesis needs to be tweaked based off of what we learn."

Fishermen Labs and the importance of collaboration

Chen pointed out that building a successful app requires "frequent coordination" with end users, too.

"Frequent coordination with end users is vital," Chen stated. "When a user community becomes invested enough in the app to participate in this feedback, we know that we've succeeded in providing a tool that is truly worth developing."

To retrieve feedback, the Fishermen Labs team schedules routine feedback loops with a client to ensure each app development project stays on track, Chen stated.

End user feedback plays an important role in an app's success, so Fishermen Labs team strives to engage end users throughout the app development cycle and collect as much feedback as possible.

"Time permitting, having a set of end users to test the prototype with helps," Chen said. "Once an app has hit a closed or open beta phase, feedback from the user community as a whole begins to take an increasingly important role in shaping the app. User feedback ranges from identifying bugs to forecasting future product features and everything in between including user experience alterations."

Fishermen Labs also prioritizes communication and uses tools like Jira, Slack and GitHub to communicate frequently. That way, the Fishermen Labs team can stay connected to one another and incorporate end user feedback immediately.

The future of Fishermen Labs

The Fishermen Labs team recognizes that mobile apps enable businesses to boost their customer engagement levels and provide customers with innovative experiences.

As such, Fishermen Labs seeks to help clients deliver the best end user experiences and will continue to explore ways to provide clients with apps designed to engage end users both now and in the future.

"We’re always seeking to put out high-quality apps," Chen said. "Data has recently surfaced that users are downloading less and less apps and spending more of their time on fewer apps. This puts pressure on app developers to focus on putting out apps that are well designed, carefully considered and that have the potential to become platforms."

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